Ask Dr. Julie

Factors that Impact Your Heart Health

Everyone knows February has Valentine’s Day in it but what a lot of people may or may not know is that February is all about the matters of the heart in more ways than just Valentine’s Day. February is American Heart Month. It is a time for us to take care of all that matters to our hearts and not just in regards to cupid’s work.

Heart health is something a lot of us think about on a regular basis especially as we get older. What might be harder to clarify is what heart health truly means. Many times we relate that to high blood pressure or heart attacks but there are many other diseases that impact our overall heart health. Let’s take some time to go over them as an homage to the heart month that is February.

There are three top ones that I think are worth mentioning: diabetes, obesity, and depression.

Diabetes is a well-known disease state where your body is unable to process and metabolize sugars in your blood effectively. Sometimes it occurs as an autoimmune situation where you body can’t make insulin or it can occur as a situation where over time, due to diet, genetic and weight factors, your body starts to have insulin insensitivity where your body isn’t able to use the insulin in your body effectively and your body’s cells aren’t able to recognize the effects of insulin and what to do with it.

This is clearly an oversimplification of the complicated process that is diabetes but that’s the general gist of diabetes. What’s interesting is that diabetes puts you at higher risk for heart attacks and strokes and other cardiovascular disease states. So, managing your sugar intake and carbohydrate intake so that you keep it in the healthy range along with your glucose level and Hemoglobin A1c level in your labs are super important. Some medications put you at higher risk for diabetes and are linked to the potential of increasing risks of diabetes so ask your doctor about your medications and make sure you’re not on one of them or if you have to be, you then know to keep a close eye on your sugar levels and intake.

Obesity and being overweight are risk factors for heart disease as well. If you’re not sure if you are overweight or not and if you fall into the obesity category, one simple way is to figure out your body mass index (BMI). The way you would calculate that is take your weight (in kilograms) and divide it by the square of your height (in meters). It’s actually easier nowadays to just look it up online and find a BMI calculation site online and plug your height and weight in and get your answer. Those online calculators frequently have the option to us weight in pounds and height in feet and inches instead of kilogram and meter measurements.

If you know your BMI, then you can see which category you fit into. BMI of 19-24 is typically considered normal and 25-29 is overweight and 30-39 is obesity and 40-50 is extreme obesity. As you climb into the higher categories there is a usual direct relationship to heart disease risks so if you are falling into categories outside of the normal range, talk to your doctor about options to help you get into the normal range.

There are medication options and diet guidelines and options that you can look into. Sometimes, depending on your health insurance, if you fall into the obesity or extreme obesity categories, they have insurance-covered treatment options such as dietitian consults or bariatric surgery or medication options or even health club membership options to help you get to goal. If you’re paying for health insurance anyways, why not check on that and see if you have similar coverage. All too often, I see that my patients aren’t utilizing all their insurance offers and frequently they don’t know to even check so if you are in need of weight support, see if your insurance can help you get a leg up on the situation and even end up having it covered by insurance.

Depression is linked to heart disease and those who have had one heart attack or more, if they also have depression, risk for further disease issues are even worse than those who don’t have depression. Now, when I say depression, that’s if it’s not under control. So, for those of you who have suffered from depression in the past, that doesn’t mean you automatically have higher risk but if depression is active and you are actively suffering from it, it’s important to have that addressed and managed. If you are not sure if you have depression or not and you feel like you might have that, then check with your doctor about that. There are questionnaires and ways for doctors to assess whether you are at risk or are suffering from it so that your doctor can help you treat it.

In general, our heart is one of the most important organs in our body. It does so much for us so it’s not a wonder that because it’s so linked to so many aspects of our health that so many other aspects of our health can also impact its health. For this amazing organ, it definitely deserves an appreciation month and awareness month but more importantly it deserves our appreciation and awareness in keeping it healthy.

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