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Give your heart some extra love
Published: 1/20/2021
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There’s not much a person can do about bad genes and family history when it comes to heart disease. But not
all is lost as a result.

It’s no secret that heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, but “changing what can be changed” goes a long way in protecting this vital organ.

“You cannot choose your parents, but you can modify your risks,” said Dr. Shukri David, M.D., Physician Chair,
Cardiovascular Service Line, Ascension Michigan. “Most of our risk factors are modifiable. You can stop smoking, you can lose weight, you can take your medications and you can exercise.”

Dr. David said it’s also important for people to “know their numbers,” especially cholesterol and blood pressure. High levels of LDL, often referred to as “bad” cholesterol, cause fatty build up in the arteries which can lead to heart attack and stroke. High blood pressure, which has recently been revised by the American Heart  Association to a systolic blood pressure greater than 130 and a diastolic greater than 80 can lead to those same complications as well as heart failure and other serious life threats.

Cholesterol and blood pressure issues are not just hereditary but can be a result of lifestyle choices, too. "Michigan has an obesity problem especially among minorities including Hispanics and African Americans,” said Dr. David. They are seeing obesity rates approaching 40%, which leads to hypertension, diabetes, and a sedentary lifestyle.

Becoming more active, stopping smoking, or eating healthier seem simple enough when the health of your heart is the issue, but as many people know it is harder than we think. Dr. David said when he talks with patients about making lifestyle changes, he educates them about the risks and tries to give them real life examples. Instead of telling a smoker to stop smoking cold turkey he instead encourages them to cut back slowly by trying to only smoke during designated times throughout the day.

As for diets, he often asks his patients if they know how many calories it takes to gain a pound? It’s about 3,500 if you didn’t know. He then encourages them to try to cut their intake, highlighting to them that they can lose weight without having to exercise. However, if you toss in some light exercise like walking you will see even greater results.

“It’s very important to exercise and do it in a consistent way,” Dr. David said, noting that activity accounts for about 25% of weight loss.

For people with a strong family history or who have elevated cholesterol or blood pressure, a Heart Scan, also known as a CT Calcium Score Heart Screening may be a good idea. This is the most accurate test for heart disease and important to have done to create a true heart health profile.

In some situations, calcium can build up in your arteries, causing a blockage or restriction of blood flow to your heart. A heart scan can detect any presence of a calcium buildup. Once this buildup is detected, a “calcium score” is calculated. When combined with your other health information, your calcium score helps to determine your risk of coronary artery disease. Heart scans are not covered by insurance, but the out of pocket cost is only $75.

“It is the most powerful tool we have that tells you if you have plaque in your arteries and it needs to be  addressed,” said Dr. David.

A heart scan is not for everyone. It is not recommended for routine screening of people who do not have symptoms of heart disease and have a low risk of heart attacks. Heart disease risk factors include hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, tobacco use, family history of heart disease.

To schedule a heart scan, please call 866.501.3627. For additional information and to connect with
the skilled cardiologists and heart specialists at Ascension, visit