How to monitor your heart health

By  

Do you know what your risk factors are for developing heart disease? Cardiologist Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York explains what tests we should have to monitor our own heart health.

How to monitor your heart health

Heart disease is the #1 killer of women, and each year it kills ten times as many women as breast cancer. So why do we give ourselves breast exams each month but don't monitor our heart health on a regular basis? Here's what you need to know to protect yourself against heart disease:

  • While heart disease may take decades to develop, habits in our 20s, 30s and 40s—the years in which we frequently think we're immune from heart disease—set the stage for developing heart disease.
  • If you smoke (even occasionally as a 'social smoker’), your diet consists of too many fatty foods and you don't get enough exercise you are—not will be—developing heart disease. Living the American Lifestyle may not kill you—a heart attack is a different issue—but it will cause most of us to develop plaque (cholesterol) in our arteries over time.
  • Aging, combined with high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, overweight and a sedentary lifestyle will cause most of us to develop artery blockages of some kind.
  • While you don't need to overtest, there are key tests you should have done, and key things you can do to protect yourself:
  1. Starting at age 20, you should know your cholesterol level. And if it is high, you should know how to lower it through changes in your diet and exercise regimen. If you have no risk factors—smoking, overweight, family history of heart disease—you can test every 5 years until you reach age 30. Thereafter, test every year. (If you do have risk factors, test every year starting at age 20.)
  2. Family history can be a significant issue even for women who are otherwise at low risk for developing heart disease. If either of your parents developed heart disease before age 55, you should consider getting a coronary artery calcium test—a CAT scan that measures the amount of calcium buildup in the arteries of the heart and may detect potential problems very early.
Transcript <!-- /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:Times; panose-1:2 0 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:3 0 0 0 1 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ascii-font-family:Times; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Times; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} p {margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ascii-font-family:Times; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Times; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} -->

I'm Lisa Birnbach for Howdini. How many women know as much about monitoring their heart health as they do their breasts? And yet, cardiovascular disease kills 10 times as many women as breast cancer does. Clearly, we need to know more about heart disease, the number one killer of both men and women in the United States.

 

Joining me to talk about how to monitor your heart health is Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a cardiologist who specializes in women's heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. Hi, Dr. Steinbaum.

 

Hi.

 

We're breast cancer minded. And we're not enough heart healthy. At what age should we really be on top of this issue? I think women in their 20s, 30s, 40s think that heart disease has nothing to do with them. That in fact, it happens to older people, and that's the way it is. It just happens.

 

But what really is the truth is that it takes decades for heart disease to develop. So when you have that social smoking thing that goes on in your 20s, you're setting the stage to develop heart disease in the future. It takes longer than a day. It takes years.

 

So I think it's very important that women understand that their risk for heart disease develops when, in fact, we are younger. And we need to pay attention to this.

 

You mean, if you're eating a lot of fatty foods and smoking now and then in your 20s, you are not maybe developing heart disease, you are definitely developing heart disease?

 

Absolutely. All of these things, these lifestyle issues, that we start in our 20s, it's just to build up to disease later in life.

 

Does that mean everyone will eventually have heart disease, we just may not die of heart disease?

 

That's exactly right. Everyone over time, mostly everyone, if we live this American lifestyle, will in fact develop plaque in the arteries, or really a build-up of cholesterol. We know that for certain, that every single American will develop plaque in their arteries. Whether or not they have a heart attack is another issue.

 

So is aging by its own definition developing heart disease?

 

As we age, if you develop high blood pressure, high cholesterol, if you develop diabetes, become sedentary, and overweight, you will in fact develop blockages in the arteries. And most of us develop these things as we age. But it's not necessary.

 

What kinds of exams or tests should we be getting now before the age we think we should?

 

Well, starting at 20 years old, I think it's very important to know what your cholesterol is. And it's very important to get it checked. Maybe not yearly. But certainly at 20, and then five years later. And then, as we get towards 30, really consider getting it checked every year.

 

But if, in fact, we are smoking, or we do have a family history of heart disease, or have any of those other risk factors, like are overweight and not really exercising, under stress, then it's important to get it checked more frequently.

 

Is family history enough of a factor to get a young person to be monitored for heart health?

 

Studies have shown that younger women who are considered at low risk but have a family history of heart disease may, in fact, show signs of blockages in the arteries through something called a coronary artery calcium score. And that's essentially an assessment of calcium inside the arteries, which is associated with plaque formation. These women actually do have plaque in the arteries at a young age.

 

And how do you get your calcium checked? Your calcium index checked?

 

Getting your calcium checked is actually through a CAT scan. It's truly a preventive measure in deciding how aggressive you have to be in taking care of the other risk factors for heart disease.

 

What are the extra things that we should be doing?

 

It's very important to understand that we don't need to over test. We don't need to go crazy. But we need to know what we can control. And we know what we can control is our diet, exercise. We need to understand what our numbers are. What is your blood pressure? What is your cholesterol? How can I change those things through diet, through exercise?

 

Because it can be changed through that. But if you really and truly have a significant family history-- and that's a father or mother with heart disease less than 55 and a mother with heart disease less than 65-- you have a significant risk of developing disease.

 

Thank you so much. For Howdini, I'm Lisa Birnbach.
meet theexpert
  • Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum

    Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum Cardiologist, Lenox Hill Hospital, NY Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum is an attending cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. She is often cited in magazines and newspapers and is regularly seen on network news health segments for ABC, NBC and CBS. more about this expert »

This month: cold prevention

healthfinder