February is officially designated as Heart Health Month. According to The Heart Foundation, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. The good news is that it is also one of the most preventable.

Dr. Christopher Pitsch, Medical Director at Liberty Lutheran’s Paul’s Run community, offers five questions he wishes his patients would ask.

Q: What is heart disease?
A: Though “heart disease” may be used to describe a few different conditions, it is most commonly used in reference to coronary heart disease, also known as coronary artery disease (CAD). In CAD the coronary arteries become narrowed or clogged and cannot supply enough blood to the heart.

Q: What causes heart disease?
A: Heart disease starts with atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a process in which fatty substances build up inside the walls of the arteries. Blood components can also begin sticking to the wall, causing a “plaque” buildup and narrowing/hardening of the vessels.

Q: What does high blood pressure have to do with heart disease?
A: Several years of high blood pressure can damage artery walls, causing them to become stiff and narrow. Though controlling our blood pressure is always important, there is more flexibility as we get older. Too aggressively lowering our blood pressure can cause problems as well.

Q: Is it OK to exercise?
A: Yes, regular exercise improves blood flow to the heart and makes the other muscles in the body more efficient, increasing their functional capacity as well as any medicine. As little as 10 minutes of an exercise you enjoy can go a long way.

Q: How can I lower my cholesterol?
A: Though sometimes medicine is required, healthy lifestyle changes can also make a big impact. Eating more fruits, lean meat, vegetables, and fish can go a long way, while eating less organ meats, egg yolks and fats.

Dr. Pitsch recommends that everyone should have an open and honest conversation with their doctor about heart disease and the prevention of heart disease.

For more information about heart disease, and how to reduce your risk, visit TheHeartFoundation.org.

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