Published on February 11, 2020

Matters of the Heart

Cardiologist Talks Cardiac Care

Couple in the park

Catherine Prince, D.O., a cardiologist with Northstate Cardiology Consultants, answers questions about coronary artery disease, the most common type of heart disease, in honor of American Heart Month. Learn why heart disease is the leading cause of deaths for adults in the U.S. and how to reduce your risk.

Q: What is coronary artery disease?
A: Coronary artery disease develops slowly over time when plaque (made up of cholesterol deposits) develops within the walls of the coronary arteries, narrowing or blocking blood flow to the heart muscle. It’s the primary reason people have heart attacks.

Q: What are the main risk factors for coronary artery disease?
A: Smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, family history, age, diabetes and obesity are the most common risk factors.

“Heart disease doesn’t always have obvious symptoms or any symptoms ... A heart attack can happen without a person knowing it.”

Q: What is cholesterol? What foods will help lower it?
A: Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made by the body and also found in foods such as meat, eggs, butter, cheese, and milk. I recommend eating a diet full of fresh, natural foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. Choosing lean meats and low-fat dairy items, reducing sodium, and avoiding processed foods will also lower your cholesterol.

Q: What are the common symptoms of heart disease?
A: They include chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, unusual fatigue and unexpected pain in the shoulder, jaw, or arm. Yet, heart disease doesn’t always have obvious symptoms or any symptoms. Many people are unaware they have high-risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes. A heart attack can happen without a person knowing it.

Q: How do smoking and high blood pressure contribute to heart disease?
A: Smoking is the No. 1 preventable cause of heart disease and premature death for adults. It causes the arteries to harden and thicken, reduces good cholesterol, and raises blood pressure. High blood pressure is often called the “silent killer” because a person may have no symptoms. But it, too, damages the arteries and limits blood flow to the heart. You can lower your blood pressure through lifestyle changes and medication.

“Most women don’t realize that heart disease is their No. 1 cause of death – killing six times as many women each year versus breast cancer.”

Q: How is heart disease different for women?
A: Most women don’t realize that heart disease is their No. 1 cause of death – killing six times as many women each year versus breast cancer, according to the American Heart Association. It tends to show up in women at an older age, and often presents differently than in men.

Women usually have less noticeable chest pain, and signs of heart attack are less obvious. They may experience shortness of breath, unusual fatigue and pain in the neck, back, abdomen or jaw. Stress, depression, menopause and pregnancy complications can play a bigger role in the development of heart disease in women.

Q: When should you see a doctor?
A: If you have high risk factors or symptoms of coronary artery disease, talk to your doctor. You may need testing for the condition. Get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked, and listen to your body if something doesn’t seem right. If you have chest discomfort, shortness of breath or are unable to do physical activities you could do six months ago, this might be an indication that something is wrong and needs to be checked out. If you have symptoms of a heart attack, call 911.

Q: How can I reduce my risk for heart disease?
A: Don’t smoke, maintain a healthy diet and weight, manage your blood pressure, blood cholesterol and diabetes, and exercise regularly.

Q: What services and treatments are available at Enloe for cardiac care?
A: Enloe cardiologists provide skilled cardiovascular care in its clinics and state-of-the-art cardiovascular care center. They offer a full spectrum of specialized services for diagnostic testing, treatments and surgery.