5 Things You Should Know About Your Heart

By Ernst Lamothe Jr

Cardiologist Ryan Connell, affiliated with Rochester Regional Health: “Understanding good heart health is essential for two reasons: prevention and early detection.”

The heart remains a remarkable organ at the center of our bodies that provides life and vitality.

The biological marvel is responsible for pumping blood and oxygen through our bodies.

Ensuring heart health can be paramount to overall well-being even with healthy individuals.

That was the case recently when Los Angeles Lakers superstar Lebron James’ son, Bronny, suffered a cardiac incident. While details of the situation remain private, it shows the importance of having your heart health checked, recognizing family history and taking care of yourself.

One person dies every 33 seconds from cardiovascular disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Understanding good heart health is essential for two reasons: prevention and early detection,” said Ryan Connell, a cardiologist with Rochester Regional Health. “Like many health issues, it’s best to prevent heart disease before it happens. You can take an active role in your own heart health by understanding what can be done to decrease the risk of developing cardiac disease. Not all heart issues are preventable, but reducing risk factors can make a real difference.”

Connell talks about five aspects of heart issues.

1 — It won’t necessarily cause chest pain

While heart attacks often do cause classic crushing chest pain, a significant portion of heart attack patients do not have chest pain as their initial symptom.

Various studies estimate as many as 40% of women and 30% of men with heart attacks experience something other than chest pain. Symptoms like back pain, abdominal pain, jaw–neck pain, arm pain, shortness of breath, sweating or nausea and vomiting can be the initial onset instead, according to Connell.

He also warns people against the thought that heart attacks only affectsenior citizens.

“People say coronary artery disease is only a disease of the elderly, but the fact is that coronary artery disease and heart attacks are more common as we get older, but can occur at younger ages too. There appears to be an increasing incidence of heart attacks in patients under the age of 55,” said Connell. “Also diseases — like hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol — can begin in early adulthood or younger and lead to heart disease later in life if not managed early on.”

He also pushed back on the adage that wine is good for your heart.

“Unfortunately, the previous thought that you should drink a glass of red wine every day for heart health is not entirely clear. An occasional glass of wine in moderation is probably OK for your heart, but there is not enough evidence of actual benefit to make it a universal recommendation for everyone,” Connell added. “Excess alcohol definitely can increase the risk of cardiac diseases though, especially heart failure and arrhythmias.”

2 — Cardiac symptoms

There is no one size fits all for cardiac symptoms. There are many types of heart problems and they can present in many different ways.

“For heart attacks, you can experience ongoing discomfort in the chest, neck, jaw, shoulder, arm, abdomen or back. Sudden shortness of breath, sweating or nausea. Warning signs of blockages in the heart arteries can be similar symptoms that occur primarily with exertion and improve with rest,” said Connell. “When it comes to heart failure and heart valve disease, patients tend to experience shortness of breath or fatigue with exertion.”

3 — Lebron James’ son

Prioritizing heart health is a fundamental aspect of maintaining overall well-being. Understanding the symptoms and addressing the factors that contribute to cardiac issues continues to be an essential step toward a healthier heart. When LeBron James’ son had a cardiac arrest, it shocked the sports world and the casual observer.

“The term cardiac arrest is similar to what happened to Damar Hamlin of the Buffalo Bills earlier last year. A cardiac arrest means that the heart suddenly stops pumping,” said Connell. “If the heart is not pumping effectively, then blood can’t get to the brain, vital organs and the rest of the body. This results in loss of consciousness and is usually fatal if not treated quickly.”

He said cardiac arrest in competitive athletes is usually the result of a pre-existing cardiac condition that the player already had. These conditions are often undiagnosed in athletes before a tragic event like that occurs. Bronny James was saved by shocking the heart with a defibrillator to charge the cardiac rhythm back to normal.

4 — Good heart health

Often called the engine of the body, a healthy heart ensures the efficient delivery of oxygen and nutrients to all cells, tissues and organs and maintains their proper function. A robust cardiovascular system contributes to increased energy levels, a stronger immune system and an overall enhanced quality of life. On the other hand, neglecting heart health can lead to a host of serious conditions, including heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.

“I tell people. ‘don’t smoke.’ Even just one or two  cigarettes a day can double your risk of a heart attack,” he added. “If you do smoke, it’s never too late to quit.”

Eating healthy remains another good option. Having more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein is advised.

“I would tell people to eat less carbs, saturated fat, animal products and salt is a good way to start,” said Connell. “Also eat in moderation because you can still eat too many calories even if you are eating the right things.”

5 — Medications

Depending on what heart diagnosis your cardialogist gave you, various medications are in place to help you maintain a quality life. For blood pressure, there are various medications including ACE-inhibitors, ARBs, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers and diuretics.

When it comes to cholesterol medication, Connell said statins are the most common type of cholesterol medication used for a high LDL level. For  blood thinners, aspirin and other antiplatelet medications are used in coronary artery disease to help prevent blood clots in coronary stents and coronary arteries.