This post was written by Dr Warrick Bishop, a practicing cardiologist and author of Have You Planned Your Heart Attack?
Coronary artery disease remains the largest killer in the Western world despite significant advances in our understanding, diagnosis and management of the condition. A large amount of potential suffering could be reduced with attention to simple maintenance. So, what can you do to reduce your risk of a heart attack?
1. Make a decision. Decide to look after your heart health. This is important, it is easy to say you’ll do this and do that but unless you make a decision and then commit to follow through, you are kidding yourself, and this won’t help you.
2. Go and see your general practitioner. Not only will your doctor check blood pressure, blood sugar, lipid profile (cholesterol levels) and an eye to general state of health (how’s that tummy?), they will also provide the guidance you need to head you in the right direction and then most importantly, bring you back for follow up – which means accountability.
3. Make small sustainable changes. There’s no point turning your life on its head to go from couch potato to Olympian. If the changes are not sustainable, then you won’t sustain them! Look to small changes by degree with your doctor guiding you with regards best bang for your buck in terms of effort.
4. Just do it. If you are advised to change lifestyle or take tablets, it will be because your doctor believes it will make a difference to your health – so do it!
5. Ask the experts. If you have questions or are unsure about advice, seek out your local doctor for a sensible consultation and discussion, and do this sooner rather than later. My experience is that more and more patients these days seek help from Doctor Google, where the information found can be biased and not specific to you as an individual. Get good, personal advice and it will pay dividends for the rest of your life.
6. Explore more information. Modern technology can enable us to look at the arteries of the heart in a ‘non-invasive’ way (meaning not needing any cutting), using CT (or CAT) scanning. This is fairly new and not form part of any formalised guidelines in Australia. The test, however, does provide extra information in certain situations and may then be useful for the individual and doctor involved to tailor care. The sort of issues imaging the heart arteries may help with are:
• ‘My cholesterol is high, is there build up in my arteries?’
• ‘I have a bad family history of hearts, should I be concerned?’
• ‘My doctor says I should be on a statin, but do I really need one?’
• ‘I’m on a statin, but I suffer side effects, do I really need a high dose or would a lower dose be adequate?’
• ‘A mate the same age just dropped dead from a heart attack, what’s my risk?’
Though not routine and not covered by a government rebate, some patients choose to pursue this extra information so they are best informed to make important decisions about managing their future cardiovascular risk.
7. Live as well as possible for as long as possible. The years fly by, so make the most of them. Keep active, keep a healthy weight, keep in contact with your local doctor and work on your best health because, as we all know, ‘prevention is better than cure’.