As we all know, February celebrated American Heart Month, a time to recognize personal heart health and show it a little extra love. While American Heart Month is an important time to encourage our patients to make improvements toward heart health, it’s critical that we stress lifestyle modifications (i.e., diet, exercise, etc.) throughout the entire year. Although cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, the risk factors of CVD are preventable and can be controlled. Understanding that everyone’s approach to heart health is different, I’ve outlined a few of my favorite tips below that I often share with my patients at higher risk for CVD.
Diet (Variety and Portion Control) Eating a well-balanced diet, including foods low in saturated fat, trans fats and high in fiber, can help patients lower their risk of CVD. Advise patients to consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. I also recommend the Mediterranean Diet for heart health, which includes healthy colorful foods, fibers and appropriate sized portions. It incorporates primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains and nuts, limits red meats, increases the intake of fish and poultry, replaces butter with healthy fats like olive oil, and replaces salt with herbs and spices for flavor. Interestingly, a recent study published in the January 6 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine found that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil cut the risk for developing type 2 diabetes by about a third among adults at high risk for CVD compared with a low-fat diet.
Exercise (Move your Muscles) Regular physical activity, which is recommended as 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week plus muscle strengthening activities, can help patients maintain a healthy weight and lower cholesterol and blood pressure. There are different ways to incorporate exercise into their lives, especially if finding time seems difficult. Advise them to choose activities they enjoy, such as taking brisk walks, gardening, working in the yard, swimming or bicycling, and alternate between each.
Smoking and Alcohol A person’s risk of CVD greatly increases if he or she smokes, and secondhand smoke is just as hazardous. If your patient smokes, talk to him or her about the benefits of quitting and assist in strategizing a plan to quit. As for alcohol, although the Mediterranean Diet suggests drinking red wine, moderate consumption of alcohol is advised.
Monitor Your Blood Pressure High blood pressure often has no warning signs or symptoms but increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, so it’s important to check your patients’ blood pressure during appointments. Advise them to utilize blood pressure monitors available at pharmacies as well.
Cholesterol Tests –Uncover True CVD Risk Comprehensive, accurate lipid analysis is vital to understand true CVD risk to personalize treatment and improve patient outcomes. There is a strong positive relationship between low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDLc), otherwise known as the bad cholesterol in the body, and the frequency of CVD events. Lowering LDLc levels with treatment, specifically statins, has been shown to improve cardiovascular outcomes; however, an estimated 59 percent of patients in the U.S. do not reach their target LDLc goal. Twenty five percent of adults qualify for statin therapy. Fifty percent will stop statins over time. As such, patients may continue to have poorly controlled LDLc levels and persistent cardiovascular risks.
The basic lipid panel (BLP) routinely used for years often underestimates real LDLc (bad cholesterol) and misclassifies the risk category in up to 60% of patients. Due to the inaccuracy of the basic lipid test, I strongly advise clinicians and people in general to use more accurate lipid tests. Testing methods that are more comprehensive have value in cardiovascular risk predictions as well.
The VAP®+ (Vertical Auto Profile) Lipid Panel is one such test identifying more people at risk for heart attack and death, unlike the traditionally used basic lipid panel (BLP) which has been proven to be up to 60% inaccurate in those patients most at risk. I strongly advise physicians to employ comprehensive and accurate testing methods, such as the VAP®+ Lipid Panel, which evaluates the complete picture – not only cholesterol, but triglycerides and hereditary risk factors as well. Unlike the BLP, the VAP®+ Lipid Panel directly measures a variety of factors associated with CVD, providing a more accurate picture of a patient’s risk. This allows for clinicians to create a personalized and effective treatment program to improve heart health – or – prevent events – or achieve healthy heart outcomes.
To conclude, CVD is preventable. Understanding true risk with comprehensive lipid testing is an important step. Taking precautionary actions and practicing healthier lifestyle habits can lower a patient’s risk. Share the tips listed above with your patients, talk to them about their heart health and discuss the importance of getting a clear picture of lipid-related cardiovascular disease with comprehensive lipid testing to find hidden risks for heart attack and death.