Since it was first announced in 1999, World Heart Day has been a campaign during which individuals, families, communities, and governments around the world participate in activities to take charge of their heart health and that of others. Why is there a need for a global campaign to focus on heart health? Because heart disease is that devastating.
Just for perspective, while COVID-19 claimed more than 1.8 million lives worldwide in 2020, heart disease caused the death of more than 18 million people every year. Although the direct toll of COVID-19 has been devastating, many in the medical community have also worried about the indirect toll of the pandemic on patients with cardiovascular disease with fewer people being diagnosed and likely putting many at higher risk for life-threatening events like heart attack or stroke.
“Cardiovascular disease has been the leading cause of death in both men and women and continues throughout the pandemic,” said Dean Karalis, M.D., an expert in cardiology and lipidology and a clinical professor of medicine at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. Dr. Karalis talked about the importance of heart disease awareness in the pandemic era on a recent edition of the healthcare podcast True to Your Heart, available at bit.ly/TTYHPodcast.
Prevention is the key
The theme of this year’s World Heart Day effort is to “Use Heart to Connect,” noting that the pandemic that everyone has been living through has highlighted an urgent need to find different and innovative ways to connect people to heart health. A central pillar to this effort is prevention: avoiding heart disease before it becomes a problem.
As Dr. Karalis recommended: “What’s important for all of us is to take charge of our own health. We need to live a healthy lifestyle. We need to try to exercise and eat well. But we also need to know and recognize what the risk factors of heart disease are so we can talk to our doctor about how we reduce our risk factors.”
Knowing the risk factors
Preventing cardiovascular disease means addressing the risk factors first. As Dr. Karalis explained, the first part is to know your family history. If you have a close family history of heart disease, you need to talk to your doctor about making sure you get screened for your blood pressure, your cholesterol and your blood sugar, and ensuring you don’t smoke. And you need to look beyond cholesterol because we’re also recognizing now that elevated triglycerides — the fat in our blood — also pose a significant risk for heart disease.
First steps toward prevention
The starting point for prevention, according to Dr. Karalis is to take a step back and ask yourself: “Do I really ‘know my numbers’ for risk factors?” That is, do you know your own cholesterol values? Do you know your triglyceride levels? Do you remember what your blood pressure was when you last saw your doctor? What is your last blood sugar measurement?
If you don’t have the answers to those questions, you need to get those answers and think about it and talk to your doctor so that, together, you can map a plan to address those risk factors and lower your own risk for cardiovascular disease.
Hear more from Dr. Karalis, and other experts, about heart disease on the True to Your Heart podcast, at bit.ly/TTYHPodcast.