Ask the Doctor: Dr. Rima Patel

Rima Patel, MD, is a cardiologist at Englewood Health Physician Network − Heart and Vascular Associates of Northern Jersey.

Cardiovascular disease is currently the leading cause of death worldwide. However, there are steps we can take to reduce our chances of developing this serious condition. According to the American Heart Association, 80 percent of heart disease and stroke events may be preventable through education, lifestyle changes, and risk-factor modification. In recognition of American Heart Month this February, we sat down with Dr. Rima Patel.

What are the different types of heart disease?

Dr. Patel: When we talk about heart disease, we’re really talking about different conditions that fall under this broad term. Heart disease is any problem of the heart and the vessels that carry blood to the organs. That encompasses coronary artery disease, arrhythmias, heart failure, heart valve disease, peripheral vascular disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), and stroke.

What do young people need to know about heart disease?

Dr. Patel: It’s never too early to think about heart health. One of the most common forms of heart disease is coronary artery disease, a condition where cholesterol plaque deposits in the vessels supplying blood to the heart, leading to heart attacks. Plaque can start at a young age, mainly due to the diet and sedentary lifestyle typical in our society. Most people without a family history of heart disease can tackle their risk at a young age by exercising regularly and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. I recommend at least 20 minutes daily of moderate intensity exercise, such as fast walking or jogging, and maintaining a colorful diet—eat the rainbow.

What signs and symptoms of heart disease should we be on the lookout for?

Dr. Patel: I tell all my patients to look out for chest heaviness and pain, especially pain that moves to the left arm or up the neck and accompanied by shortness of breath. This type of pain – which could be a heart attack – is often precipitated by emotional or physical stress. While heart disease is often mistakenly thought of as a “man’s disease,” it’s the leading cause of death for women in the United States. But many women experience no symptoms. In fact, about two-thirds of women who die suddenly from heart disease have no preceding symptoms, making screening of utmost importance. Women who do have symptoms usually report burning pain that occurs in the neck, jaw, throat, abdomen, or back. Not only are symptoms different, but there are also issues unique to women, such as the onset of menopause or a history of breast cancer, which may play a role in the risk for developing heart disease. Everyone’s experience is different, so I encourage patients to listen to their bodies and get checked out if they are concerned.

What are the most common misconceptions you hear about heart disease?

Dr. Patel: One of the most common misconceptions is that once you have heart disease, you cannot change your future, that you’re “doomed.” While having a heart attack or stroke is life altering, I encourage patients to use the experience as motivation to make positive lifestyle changes. It’s never too late to live healthier and decrease your risk.

Posted February 2019

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