The Doctor is In - Guest Column by Dr. Brendan J. Mulholland            

February is National Heart Month

     February, the time when many celebrate love as St. Valentine's Day approaches, is the perfect time to take stock in one's own health. To truly love someone an individual must love themselves first. Keeping oneself healthy is a key ingredient to love, so much so that the American Heart Association has declared February as National Heart Month. The purpose is to raise awareness for cardiac health issues.

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     It's no secret that the number one cause of death across America is heart disease and yet it is so often preventable. Inevitably, many individuals needlessly succumb to heart disease due to their hectic lifestyles and taking their health for granted.

     As primary care physicians we find our cardiologist colleagues to be an invaluable resource in assisting in the care of our cardiac patients. Caring for a patient with heart disease is one thing but preventing and detecting early heart disease is a whole different story.

     Heart disease in many instances is a silent killer. It's not until chest pain, shortness of breath, or swelling in the legs occur do people seek medical attention. At this stage detection is simple but often very late as heart damage may have set in. So what should an individual do? The best advice we physicians can give is to simply recommend for an individual to come in for an annual physical exam.

      A physical should include a comprehensive examination and even more importantly a detailed history. This, along with an electrocardiogram (EKG) and blood tests, will enable a physician to correctly identify an individual's risk factors that may promote heart disease. Having an annual physical is really a simple endeavor, many individuals will schedule it around their birthday so they won't forget. Most insurance companies recognize the importance of such an exam and waive the patient's co-pay, thereby eliminating any financial burden on an individual. 

     There are many causes of heart disease from rare disease states like autoimmune conditions, infections, and congenital defects but lets focus on the common causes most of which are preventable.

      We physicians are always interested in the metrics; blood pressure, weight, activity, and cholesterol levels to name a few. Additionally, a key risk factor is a pertinent family history especially if parents or siblings have known heart disease. We all know the dangers of smoking when it comes to heart disease but an even greater risk which has exploded to epidemic proportions is Diabetes. Specifically, Type II Diabetes is a leading cause of heart disease and is especially dangerous as many of the warning signs like chest pain are absent in the Diabetic patient.

     At the conclusion of an annual physical exam a physician will now have enough information to make an accurate risk assessment of one's heart health. Recommendations can be as simple as eating healthier, losing some weight, and perhaps increasing daily exercise. The findings in certain circumstances could justify the use of prescription medicine to perhaps lower blood pressure, cholesterol, or glucose levels.  On occasion the exam findings warrant further investigation. It is at this point a primary care physician may request additional cardiac tests such as an Echocardiogram and a Treadmill Stress Test.  

     An Echocardiogram is an invaluable tool to assess the overall function of the heart, the size of the heart, the thickness of the heart walls, and whether the heart valves are working properly. The stress test adds complimentary information by assessing one's coronary arteries. During a stress test changes found with the electrical activity from the heart muscle can ultimately lead to a diagnosis of blocked or partially blocked coronary arteries. Without the benefit of a stress test, many times blocked heart arteries or Coronary Artery Disease will go undetected until a heart attack occurs. At the completion of these tests a physician will have the necessary information to determine whether a significant heart issue exists or not.  It is at this point a primary care physician will the consult their cardiologist colleagues if an issue was detected.

     So there you have it, a heart to heart conversation on the basics of heart disease prevention.  As February is the time for love remember to love yourself. Take the advice from the American  Heart Association and see your doctor!

                                    

About the Author: Brendan J. Mulholland, MD has been a primary care physician serving Monmouth County for the past 20 years. As a graduate of Georgetown University School of Medicine and a shareholder of Integrated Medicine Alliance, Doctor Mulholland owns and operates 2 primary care offices; Red Bank Family Medicine and River Road Primary Care. He also owns Hazlet Family Care an urgent care center.

Integrated Medicine Alliance (IMA) has been Monmouth County's leader in primary and urgent care services for the past 25 years. Servicing the needs of over 70,000 patients, the corporation also provides cardiac diagnostic services and cardiology services.  With 6  primary care offices and three urgent care locations the company is owned and operated by local physicians.  For more information please contact 732-460-9840.