An accomplished cardiologist took the time to answer a few of our questions so you can get smart about your heart.
We became instant fans of Boston-based cardiologist Ami Bhatt, pictured, after seeing she was named 2020 Chairwoman of Go Red for Women Boston, and then following her very engaging Twitter account @AmiBhattMD, where she shares everything from trying to raise awareness for rising maternal mortality rates in the US, to snippets of her dinner party conversation (which was an analogy about digital stethoscopes, why what do you talk about at a dinner party?).
Anyway, as the heart is at the heart of all health, we had a few questions and Dr. Bhatt was kind enough to answer them. Read on to get smart about this vital organ, and then try to make the changes that can have a big impact and a literal lifetime of benefits.
Q: At what age should I start taking care of my heart?
It is never too early to be heart healthy. A well balanced diet, 150 minutes of physical activity a week, tobacco avoidance, maintaining an optimal body mass index, learning to manage stress, and knowing your personal and family medical history are habits that can be formed at any age.
What are the main heart health diseases?
When people refer to heart disease, we are often discussing coronary artery disease or the buildup of plaque in the arteries that feed the heart muscle. However, heart disease can include valve disease, heart failure or weak heart muscle, congenital heart disease (since birth), abnormal heart rhythms and more. If you have been told you have heart disease, it is important to ask your doctor to take the time to explain it to you in a way that you could then explain to someone else.
What are the main risk factors for heart disease?
The main risk factors for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke) include high blood pressure, overweight, diabetes, tobacco use, high stress and sedentary lifestyle. There are also many unique situations, for example: sometimes medications, such as cancer drugs, can cause different types of heart disease. Another at-risk group are women who have high blood pressure in pregnancy and may then have an increased risk of developing heart disease later in life.
What actions can we take to prevent heart disease?
Knowing your numbers is key. You should know and control your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and if you have diabetes, your blood sugar levels. Healthfully achieving an optimal body mass index for yourself (sometimes that means focusing on abdominal or belly weight, especially if you are South Asian), and staying active with 150 minutes of any aerobic physical activity each week (even walking!) is quite protective as well. If you have a strong family history of heart disease, check in with your doctor regularly to make sure you are on the right track. Resources like the American Heart Association and Cardiosmart from the American College of Cardiology are trusted places for good information from cardiologists and a great place to start if you want to learn more.
Dr. Ami Bhatt is a practicing cardiologist, clinical investigator and educator based in Boston. She graduated from Harvard University, obtained her doctoral degree from Yale School of Medicine and is now an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and the Director of Outpatient Cardiology at the Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center. She runs a telemedicine practice for adults with congenital heart disease and women with cardiovascular disease and pregnancy and is the 2020 Chair of the Boston Go Red for Women Campaign.