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Cardiologist Shares Ways to Maintain Healthy Heart

By Christen N. McCluney
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2010 – Almost every minute, someone dies of a heart-related cause in the United States. Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in this country, killing more than 400,000 people a year.

"A healthy diet and an exercise program can significantly reduce someone’s risk of developing heart disease," Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Scott Moore, chief of cardiology for the 59th Medical Wing at Wilford Hall Medical Center, Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, told listeners during a “Dot Mil Docs” interview today.

A heart attack is a sudden blockage that forms in one of the blood vessels that supplies the heart. "It's usually a clot that happens on top of existing plaque," Moore said. This prevents oxygen from getting to the heart, he explained, and can cause failure of heart muscles or abnormal heart rhythms, which could potentially be fatal.

Diet is an important part of having a healthy heart, Moore said. Consuming a variety of vegetables and fruits on a daily basis and choosing lean meat can help in preventing heart disease. Eating unrefined whole grains can help to reduce cholesterol, along with fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, trout and herring.

"If you do that twice a week, that can significantly lower your risk of death from a heart-related cause," Moore said.

The American Heart Association also recommends 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week as a part of leading a heart-healthy lifestyle. Moderate exercise can include brisk walking, running, bicycling and the treadmill. "Getting 30 minutes of a brisk aerobic routine in really meets that need," he said.

Risk factors for heart disease include a family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and tobacco use.

"It's important for all of us to continue to see our doctor on a regular basis to get screened for these [so] that these risk factors are appropriately being addressed."

A variety of symptoms warn when a heart attack is occurring. One of the main symptoms is chest discomfort that begins in the center of the chest, Moore said. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, sweating and a radiating pain in the arm, neck, jaw or stomach. Women commonly have the symptoms outside of chest pain which sometimes make their diagnosis less straight-forward, he added.

When experiencing these symptoms, Moore said, the best thing to do is to call 911. "Time is very important in treating heart attacks," he said. By calling the emergency medical service most patients receive life-saving treatment up to an hour sooner than someone going to the hospital by car, he explained.

Another benefit in calling 911 is that hospitals in many cities coordinate with the paramedics to activate heart attack treatment teams before patients even leave their homes. In those cases, a team is waiting at the hospital when the patient arrives and can begin treatment immediately.

(Christen N. McCluney works in the Defense Media Activity's emerging media directorate.)

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