In 2015, heart disease was once again our leading cause of death in South Carolina. It killed 10,034 of us, and accounted for 50,167 hospitalizations, running up a cost of more than $3.2 billion.
This is truly a burden we cannot afford. And it is avoidable.
In the 21st century, medical science can do wonderful things. At Providence Health, where I practice, we are proud to have performed the first open-heart surgery in the Midlands more than 40 years ago. Since then, we’ve implemented many other firsts, such as bypass surgery on a beating heart, and transcatheter aortic valve replacement. Just last month, we introduced a new procedure, implanting the Watchman device, which can free many atrial fibrillation patients from years of having to take blood thinners to stave off life-threatening clots.
We’ve come a long way, and we have much to celebrate in February, which is National Heart Month. But doctors and other health professionals can’t do it all. And you shouldn’t expect us to.
As I tell patients over and over, the most important thing is prevention. And the power to prevent is for the most part entirely in their hands. That’s why, even before I ask my patients whether they’re taking their medications properly, I ask them about three things. They’re the simplest things, but the ones people are sometimes most reluctant to take care of:
▪ Diet. Obesity increases the risk of heart disease by 32 percent, and two-thirds of adults in South Carolina are overweight. Eating right doesn’t have to be hard, or entail completely giving up the foods you love. It’s about eating sensibly, and eating enough of the right things.
▪ Exercise. Being active is essential to avoiding heart disease and stroke. Inactivity is estimated to cause 30 percent of ischaemic heart disease. In South Carolina, half of adults don’t get enough physical activity. As the American Heart Association puts it, “Thirty minutes a day, five times a week is an easy goal to remember.” You don’t have to join a gym or invest in expensive equipment. You just need a little discipline.
▪ Tobacco. Giving up tobacco is the hardest change to make because nicotine is so addictive, but it will have the greatest impact on improving your health. You just have to not do something — something that you’ve probably known for your whole life you shouldn’t do. So no excuses on this one. Lung cancer is far from being the only way smoking kills you. Cigarette smokers are 70 percent more likely to die of heart disease than nonsmokers. One out of every five adults in South Carolina smokes.
To learn more about these and other things you can do keep yourself alive and healthy, check out the American Heart Association’s tips at healthyforgood.heart.org.
It’s the simple, everyday stuff that’s key to your good health — and your survival.
Everyone should get regular checkups, and if you suspect a problem, come in and get evaluated. But don’t do what too many patients do: use the results of a test as a substitute for doing the things you should do.
True, there are some risk factors that are beyond your control — such as a genetic predisposition. In those cases, it is important to be evaluated and seek treatment that can lower your risk of heart disease or even prevent it. But even in those cases, you have the power to reduce your risk.
There are many wonderful things we can do for you when you have a heart problem. But the best thing is when you take charge and prevent yourself from getting to that point.
Dr. Phillips is an interventional cardiologist with Providence Heart, a cardiology practice owned by Providence Health; contact him at William.firstname.lastname@example.org.