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Don’t Cross Your Heart

Posted 6/13/2017 by UHBlog

Are you at risk of a failing ticker? Talk to us about preventing heart disease.

Don’t Cross Your Heart

Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States, claiming approximately 600,000 lives each year. Lifestyle modifications can reduce your chance of becoming another statistic, but first you need to know what behaviors could put you in danger of developing cardiovascular issues.

That’s where an online risk-assessment tool, such as “My Life Check” designed by the American Heart Association, comes in. Typically formatted as a short quiz, tools like these can help you stay focused on living a healthy life, so you “don’t cross your heart.”

“It enhances patient awareness of what you ought to be looking for and (serves as) a good mental trigger to go see your physician and talk about your individual cardiovascular risk factors,” says cardiologist Monique Robinson, MD. “But it’s not going to be the be-all, end-all of cardiovascular risk assessment.”

Risk assessments are most useful for adults age 50 and over, but they can also be relevant for younger people who have a family history of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease.

“It reminds the younger person that we all have something we can work on,” says Dr. Robinson, who specializes in matters related to heart failure. “Poor lifestyle choices in your 20s can come back to haunt you in your 50s.”

Many online tools assess your risk of developing heart disease based on factors such as:

  • Blood pressure
  • Cholesterol level
  • Blood sugar level
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Diet
  • Exercise habits
  • Family history

It’s important to remember that online tools operate on an algorithm that depends on the information you input, so accuracy and honesty are required. Using a blood pressure reading from six months ago or padding the time you spend exercising each week won’t elicit an accurate assessment.

It typically takes just a few minutes to answer several questions about your health and lifestyle. Immediately after, you receive a score along with suggestions for reducing your risk factors. Earning a perfect score doesn’t guarantee you’ll never develop cardiovascular issues, just as a low number doesn’t mean you’re destined to suffer a heart attack. But the score can and should be used as a starting point for talking with your doctor or modifying your lifestyle.

“I’m a proponent of medical risk management,” Dr. Robinson says. “I want patients to be empowered to work on their own within the context of full, comprehensive knowledge. They can say to their physician, ‘I took this test and I have questions. For example, I know I can work on eating a plant-based, low-protein diet, but how can you further help me modify my risk?’”

Certainly, some risk factors are genetic – and there is nothing you can do about those. But others can be reduced by lifestyle modifications, such as giving up cigarettes, improving your diet, exercising, losing weight or even taking cholesterol-lowering medication. Dr. Robinson particularly recommends reaching out for help – from both health care professionals and friends and family.

“You don’t need to go it alone,” she says. “For example, find out if a neighbor will walk with you. If you’re diabetic, see if someone at your place of worship is also diabetic and wants to work with you to improve meals. Build a community of like-minded people around yourself. I’ve seen it work with my patients. If you know better, you do better.”

Monique Robinson, MD, is a cardiologist at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Robinson or any other doctor online.

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