Heart to Heart with a Leading Cardiologist

Advice for Maintaining a Healthy Heart

– By Haris Turalic, MD, F.A.C.C. –

Heart disease is one of the most common diseases and the leading cause of death in the United States. To better understand the importance of taking care of the heart, Dr. Turalic, one of Lehigh Regional Medical Center’s leading cardiologists, answers questions and offers advice on heart health.

Are heart diseases hereditary?  Yes, in many cases it can be hereditary, but the risk of developing coronary artery disease can be reduced by lifestyle changes, proper diet, exercise and certain medications. Smoking, bad eating habits, and not properly controlling diabetes, cholesterol and high blood pressure significantly increases a person’s chance of developing heart problems.

It is a shock to learn that someone who appears healthy on the outside goes into cardiac arrest or has a heart attack. Can you put this into perspective for us? It only takes a few minutes for the coronary artery to become occluded.  When this happens in a part of an artery that supplies large amounts of blood to your heart muscle, a large percentage of your heart stops pumping the blood. This will cause cardiac arrest and shock.  Moreover, lethal arrhytmias may be precipitated by the blockage.

What causes stress on the heart? Smoking and diabetes are the two most important stressors on the heart.  Stopping smoking, controlling diabetes, controlling cholesterol, eating proper nutrition and exercise can all reduce stress on the heart.

We read a lot about how important cardio exercises are. Can you shed some light on the best activities to keep our hearts strong? Is walking just as good as or better than intensive exercise? Any type of exercise is better than no exercise at all.  The important thing is to exercise at least 30 minutes a day/6 days a week.  You can rest for 1 day a week.

Can cholesterol be controlled without using medicines?  Certainly.  However, if you already have evidence of coronary artherosclerosis, that would be insufficient.  Statin drugs not only lower cholesterol, but they also reduce inflammation and stabilize small blockages which may prevent heart attack.

Is there a relationship between high blood pressure and heart diseases?  Yes, there is.  High blood pressure damages coronary arteries and when this happens, platelets from the blood will try to repair the damage.  However, this repair process may form a big blood clot which can then occlude coronary artery and cause heart attack.

What are the best and worst foods for heart health?  Fruits, vegetables, olive oil and nuts!  If I can describe it in one term, that would be Mediterranean diet.

What type of routine checkup should we have? When should we start getting these checkups and how often?  There are no guidelines for this.  Maintain an active and healthy lifestyle and do not smoke. If you have any reason to be concerned about your heart, seek medical attention immediately. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

What are the early signs of a heart attack? Will a person know when they are having a heart attack?  Heart attack occurs suddenly most of the time.  However, occasionally, a blockage can build up slowly and usually when the heart vessel becomes more than 70% occluded, a person would get chest discomfort or shortness of breath on exertion.

Can someone help himself during a heart attack? Yes, chew an aspirin and call 911 immediately.  Do not ever drive to the ER!

What is the most important thing a person can do to take care of their heart? A healthy heart relies on a healthy lifestyle. Everyone should exercise, eat healthy, not smoke (or if they do, quit smoking), and be compliant with recommended medications.

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