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Focus on Your Heart Health in 2023

Dr. Larry Antonucci's Blog Posts


Jan. 4, 2023

The start of the new year has many people looking at their lives, health and habits and aiming to make changes. Whether you set specific resolutions or not, I would encourage you to understand your heart health and, if necessary, take steps to make a healthier heart a priority. Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States, but you can take control and reduce your risk.

First, it is helpful to understand the risk factors for heart disease. High cholesterol is one risk, and almost 2 in 5 adults in the U.S. have high cholesterol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Richard Chazal, M.D., a senior cardiologist and the medical director of Lee Health Heart and Vascular Institute, explains cholesterol. “Cholesterol is naturally manufactured by the body, but in some cases, the amount or type of cholesterol can significantly increase the risk of heart attack,” he says. “Most cholesterol that enters the body comes from food high in saturated and trans fat, like red meat, butter, cheese, fried foods, egg yolks and many fast foods.”

Therefore, one way you can affect your heart health is to make healthy food choices by limiting the foods mentioned above and increasing your intake of higher-fiber foods, like beans, fruits and vegetables. “While diet can substantially reduce cholesterol levels, many people have genes that tell the body to make or absorb more cholesterol than is needed,” Dr. Chazal says. “For those people, medications called statins can help.”

Statins are recommended for people with low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels above 190 mg/dL after exercise and diet changes don’t work to decrease cholesterol levels, Dr. Chazal explains. “Statins decrease the bad LDL cholesterol, and this class of medication appears to decrease inflammation in the walls of arteries, which contributes to the buildup of plaque and sudden events like heart attacks,” he says. “Patients who have had a stroke, heart attack or peripheral artery disease are almost always prescribed statins regardless of blood levels, as extensive scientific evidence shows a major benefit. Additionally, those with diabetes and an LDL of at least 70 mg/dL who are 40 to 75 years old typically take statins as well.”

Dr. Chazal says statins are among the most studied of all medical therapies, and serious side effects are rare (and are often the result of a combination with certain other drugs). “Muscle aches are commonly reported, but in blinded studies where the patient and physician are not aware of what is being taken, there is not a consistent increase in side effects compared to placebo pills,” Dr. Chazal says. “A slight risk in the development of diabetes is present in some. Previous reports of deterioration in mental function have not been proven, and some studies suggest a reduction in such, though this has not been clearly validated. Overall, for people appropriately treated, the benefit of this medication consistently outweighs any risk.”

Going to the doctor for an annual exam with a review of health habits, a check of blood pressure and bloodwork helps provide you with the clearest picture of your heart health. So, as we start 2023, take the time to understand your heart health and know there are ways to improve it! Statins, if prescribed, combined with healthy lifestyle choices, like exercising regularly, not smoking, eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep, can make a significant difference in your heart health.

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