Have you ever had a pain in your chest and thought — could it be? Did I have pain in my right arm, or is it my left arm? Wait, it’s different for men and women, right? Oh gosh, I’m sure it’s nothing — but what if it is something? Probably just indigestion. I’ll take some Tums and see how I feel in the morning.
Why do we wait? Why don’t we just get it checked out?
Time? Convenience? Cost? Not wanting to overreact?
The truth is, it’s usually one or all of those things. But when it comes to our health shouldn’t it be different? Shouldn’t we be able to get advice from a medical professional without having to jump through all the hoops?
Well you can. It’s called Direct Primary Care. And it’s a true doctor-patient relationship. A relationship where you have direct access to your doctor when you need them.
And why is that important?
Because heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. AND IT’S PREVENTABLE!
Per the CDC, every 36 seconds someone dies from cardiovascular disease.
And we tend to shrug it off because life is busy. We don’t have time. There’s work, kids, homeschooling, the home duties, no insurance, high copay, and the list goes on — and on.
So we wait. We push it aside until it gives us no choice but to deal with it. In fact, some people may not even know they have heart disease until they have a heart attack!
But when one in four people die each year from cardiovascular disease — should we be waiting? No.
What is Heart Disease?
Heart disease has a broad meaning because it refers to several different types of heart issues.
Some forms of heart disease are when there is an irregularity of the heart beat (Arrhythmia), when the heart muscles grow weak or harden (Cardiomyopathy), when the arteries harden (Atherosclerosis), when there are issues that someone was born with (Congenital heart defects), and congestive heart failure when the heart does not pump like it should.
The most common form is Coronary Artery Disease (CAD). This is where plaque made up of cholesterol, fat, and calcium deposits builds up in arteries that supply blood to the heart.
The buildup causes blockages and reduces circulation. This can lead to a heart attack.
Per the CDC, 18.2 million adults over the age of 20 have CAD.
The three main risk factors are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking.
Other risk factors include being overweight, diabetes, inactivity, and excessive alcohol use.
All of these risk factors can be remedied with lifestyle changes and/or medication. If you have one or more of these traits, it is important that you talk with your doctor.
The one caveat to this is family history. This is a risk factor that needs to be managed by a doctor. If you are aware of someone in your family that has a heart condition that is considered early onset then testing should be a priority. You can be doing everything right — living a healthy lifestyle — and still have heart disease.
Seeing a doctor regularly before the age of 40 to get blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked is imperative.
Some people may have heart disease and not know it until they have a heart attack. If you have the following symptoms you should speak with a medical professional as soon as possible.
Chest pain — Also called angina. This is pain that occurs due to the lack of blood flowing to the heart. It feels like a throbbing or squeezing in your chest. You may also experience discomfort in your back, jaw, arms, shoulders, and/or neck.
Shortness of breath — When the heart isn’t functioning to full capacity it creates less blood flow to other organs, like the lungs. So if you are getting winded when you are doing activities that normally didn’t make you need air — go see your doctor.
Pain in your Jaw, Neck, Back, or Arms — If you are feeling an uncommon sensation in any of these areas you want to have a discussion with your doctor.
Fatigue, swelling in your legs, ankles, feet and irregular heart beats are other symptoms that should also not be ignored.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. That is a statement that has stood the test of time.
Diet, exercise, not smoking, and drinking in moderation are just a few ways that you can reduce the chances of heart disease.
Living a healthy lifestyle with moderation is a great way to enjoy life without completely giving up the things you love.
As we age, it is important to get annual physical exams. Getting annual blood pressure, cholesterol, blood work, and discussing any health trends with your primary care physician can help catch abnormalities early. This gives you a better chance to reduce the damage and possibly reverse the affects.
The good news is that plaque buildup does not happen overnight. Therefore tests that measure plaque in the arteries usually only have to be done once every ten years. One of those tests is a Coronary Calcium CT. This test looks for calcium buildup in your arteries that affects your heart.
Your doctor may send you for other tests depending on your symptoms. Those may include an EKG, Echo, and/or stress test.
February is Heart Health Month!
As we move into February, it is a perfect time to schedule an appointment with your doctor to have your annual physical done.
Also, it is a great time to have tests performed to measure the heart’s function.
Many times during the month of February hospitals will have discounted rates for tests on the heart.
Call and speak with your Direct Primary Care physician to find the best course of action for you.
Direct Primary Care
As we age, little health issues have more relevance. It is crucial to have a doctor that you feel comfortable with. It is also critical that you have access to them.
That is what Direct Primary Care is. It is a true doctor-patient relationship. You have access to your doctor through a portal, phone calls, telehealth, and office visits.
And there is no insurance. So if you have a high deductible plan, medicare, or no insurance at all — it doesn’t matter.
With direct primary care you pay a low monthly fee to have access to your doctor when you need them.
Dr. Sheila Chen is a board certified internist in Fairfax, Virginia. She specializes in helping patients deal with chronic conditions and aging well.