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Take these health warnings to heart

Dr. Justin Coyle

Dr. Justin Coyle of Baylor Scott and White in Marble Falls discussed heart disease risk factors and how best to prevent them in recognization of American Heart Month, which is February. Courtesy photo

February has been American Heart Month since 1963, recognizing heart disease as the leading cause of death for Americans. Cardiologist Dr. Justin Coyle of Baylor Scott and White in Marble Falls spoke with about the risk factors for heart disease and how they can be mitigated. 

Coyle recently brought a cardio sensor and system to the Highland Lakes that is designed to keep people with congestive heart failure healthier and out of the hospital. 

“Heart disease is a very general term,” he said. “It can mean a lot of different things. Think of the heart like a house. It has structure, electrical, plumbing, etc., and heart disease can affect many or all of these aspects.”

One in five deaths that occur in the United States can be attributed to cardiovascular diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That equated to around 697,000 people in 2020. About half of those deaths were caused by coronary artery disease, the most common form of heart disease, which is thought to affect 20 million American adults. 

Beyond the cost of human life, the CDC estimates that $229 billion was spent treating heart disease in 2017 and 2018 in the United States.

“Heart disease is the number one (cause of death) in our country,” Coyle said. “We have a constant queue and influx of patients that we’re seeing. We’re trying to be preemptive.”

He went on to list the warning signs of heart disease and how to stay on top of heart health.

Chest pains, shortness of breath, dizziness, and heart palpitations are signs of advanced heart disease. Women may present different symptoms from men, such as nausea, fatigue, or pain in the abdomen and back.

Understanding genetics is crucial as well. Those with a history of heart disease in their family are at a significantly higher risk, according to Coyle.

“If people are in tune with their medical issues, that can be very important for catching things early,” he said.

One of the greatest risk factors is obesity, Coyle said. Being significantly overweight puts massive amounts of pressure on the cardiovascular system and can lead to other illnesses that exacerbate the problem.

“Excess fat can raise blood pressure, which puts more strain on the heart, which then has its whole cascade of downstream consequences,” he explained. “Higher body weight puts more demand on the heart than we are designed to support.”

Among the other risk factors he listed were excessive consumption of alcohol, smoking, a lack of physical activity, sleep apnea, and insulin resistance or diabetes.

Coyle recommends healthier lifestyle choices rather than expensive medical pre-screening procedures to prevent heart disease from taking hold in the first place.

“I think people’s money and energy (are) better served with buying healthy food and getting a gym membership than getting screened for a clogged artery,” he said. “You just have to really be aware and hyper-vigilant with setting boundaries for yourself and your kids with what you’re eating.”

If you are experiencing any of the serious symptoms associated with heart disease, having odd pains, or unexplainable discomfort, Coyle said the best thing you can do is get it checked out to catch early signs.

“Be honest with yourself about how you’re feeling,” he said. “Try and look back and see if you’ve had a quick decline. Don’t ignore it.”