It’s National Heart Month Again

February is National Heart Month. It seems like just yesterday when I last spoke about this. Given the passing of a full year of research and education it is fair to ask whether we’ve made any significant strides against heart attack and stroke (CVD). The qualified answer is yes. I say qualified because although the strides I cite are impressive, we are still far from removing CVD from its place as the leading cause of death in the western world. And so we must continue to do more – woman on beachexercise more; eat better; lose weight; diminish stress… Still, great things have occurred and they should be noted. In the world of cholesterol two novel cholesterol lowering medications were approved: Lomitapide and Mipomerson. Both are intended for patients with the very serious genetic lipid disorder Familial Hypercholesterolemia, so their applications will be limited. Still, they mark a leap in our understanding and management of cholesterol problems, a leap that will likely translate into more research and concomitant applications with much broader clinical utility. We have also made strides in treating atrial fibrillation, a common rhythm disturbance saddled with the associated risk of stroke. Three new blood thinning medications have been approved and they too represent true “game changers”. New devices have hit the market, instruments for less invasively treating valve disorders, blocked arteries, holes in the heart, rhythm disturbances, and aneurysms. New blood tests have made their way to the prevention scene, enabling doctors to predict more accurately who may or may go on to sustain a life-threatening cardiovascular event in the more proximate future. And imaging has evolved – we can now view one’s coronary arteries with far less radiation than is delivered by most stress tests, and just slightly more radiation than is experienced during a mammogram!

And so we should be happy. Doctors, scientists, and philanthropists have helped diminish our risk of dying from disorders of the heart, brain, and vasculature. But there are strategies we cannot forget. TLC, or therapeutic lifestyle changes, still represents our single best defense against these diseases. And TLC simply put means living better lives. It means exercising, eating properly, maintaining an optimal weight, seeing your doctor regularly, taking your medications appropriately, and in short doing your part to stay healthy. There is no escaping the fact that no matter how much we learn and grow as doctors and scientists we still need the genuine and full engagement of our patients to achieve optimal health and maximally reduce risk. Optimal health demands a team, and the captain of that team will always be the individual patient.

So this National Heart Month I want to encourage you to take charge of yourself. Personal responsibility seems to be a theme of 2013. In the case of CVD it is no different. Do yourself and your loved ones a favor and do what you can to fight CVD. It is a plainly defeatable foe.

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