An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

What you need to know about heart disease
Risk Factors of heart disease include: High Blood Pressure|!!| High Cholesterol|!!| Diabetes|!!| Smoking|!!| Overweight|!!| Sedentary Lifestyle|!!| Family History

February is Heart Month, and unfortunately heart disease is still the number one cause of death in America. The good news is that our lifestyles play a major role in our risk for a heart attack. The bad news is so does our genetics.

“I’m healthy, active and have never felt better in my life, but no man in my family has ever lived past the age of 40.”

I often hear different versions of this statement from patients. I am happy to hear it while they are still feeling great, rather than after they’ve suffered a massive heart attack. Many forms of heart disease are hereditary, but at this stage, heart disease is usually still preventable or treatable.

I currently have a patient in her 60s who had a heart attack 20 years ago. She’s always had a great diet, maintained a healthy weight and she didn’t have any other risk factors. Her father died at the age of 40 from heart disease and several of his family members also died from heart disease. In this situation, family history is the greatest risk factor.

Take the reins of your heart health

Prevention is doing what you can to modify the risk factors that you have control over. You can’t control your genes, but you can control your blood pressure and cholesterol.

Get moving. I recommend 30 minutes of exercise five days per week.

Eat healthy. I recommend a Mediterranean diet, which includes fresh vegetables, fruits, fish, poultry, healthy fats, such as olive oil, and whole grains.

Don’t smoke. Smoking significantly increases your chances for developing heart disease. There are many helpful resources that are available to help you quit. Visit to get started.

Know your numbers. Stay informed about your health, including your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

When it comes to cholesterol it’s important to know your HDL (high-density lipoprotein) or “good” cholesterol, LDL (low-density lipoprotein) or “bad” cholesterol, as well as your triglyceride levels. Overall cholesterol is not as important as the three individual numbers.

The subtle heart attack

The most common misconception that I see in my practice has to do with chest pain. Most people think that if they are suffering from a heart attack they will feel sharp, unbearable pain radiating through their chest and/or left arm. That is not the case.

In most cases, the pain is far less severe and can be described as a discomfort or heaviness in the chest. Patients sometimes experience pain or discomfort in the throat or between their shoulder blades.

I’m careful not to ask my patients if they are having chest pain because the answer is often no. When I ask if their chest is feeling any different than usual, they describe symptoms of discomfort and heaviness, as if someone were sitting on their chest. Chest discomfort is a more common symptom among men.

A common symptom among women is shortness of breath or fatigue. I see female patients that never have chest discomfort, but suffer from fatigue and/or shortness of breath. If you are experiencing any new shortness of breath, it’s time to see your doctor.

It’s just like that old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” If you are concerned about your health or if you are showing symptoms of heart disease call your doctor immediately. Heart disease can be sneaky and it does not always give you a second chance. Be proactive. Learn your family history. Live a healthy lifestyle.

Dr. Leslie Fleischer  is a board certified cardiologist with White-Wilson Medical Center Cardiology and has been practicing medicine for 37 years.