When it comes to heart health, the power to prevent cardiovascular disease lies squarely in the hands of each patient, said a Brownsville doctor.
That’s why cardiologist Fadi Alfayoumi is spreading the word about preventive measures and working with Valley Baptist Medical Center to make his message kid-friendly. February is American Heart Month.
Alfayoumi is part of a team working on a partnership plan with local schools to educate students about heart health. Despite advancements in cardiac disease treatments, the best treatment for heart disease ultimately is prevention, he said.
That’s especially important considering that people with poorly controlled diabetes have high chances of cardiac problems. Alfayoumi said Rio Grande Valley residents have a high percentage of the risk factors for heart disease, which can affect both the heart muscle or valves, and factors like obesity and diabetes are on the rise across the United States.
“ Today one-third of America is obese, one-third is overweight and less than one-third is considered medically fit,” he said. “People talk about it all the time, but prevention is lagging behind. Simply speaking, it’s not working as we would like to see it working for the public.”
At just a few millimeters wide, Alfayoumi said it doesn’t take much cholesterol plaque build-up to clog a heart valve. The best method of treatment is prevention by modifying diet and getting active, he added, along with getting conditions like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes under control.
“ We believe the disease starts way early in life, considering the prevalence of the risk factors for heart disease along with poor dietary habits at home,” he said. “Therefore there’s a big push from the American College of Cardiology for public education to start early in life.”
What Alfayoumi and staff at Valley Baptist Medical Center will do is adapt hard data so that it can be understood by middle school students. The end goal is for those students to make positives changes as home, long before they would ever have symptoms of heart disease.
“ If we don’t start early in life, by the time you go for your screening at the age of 40, it might be a bit to late in the process if we talk about when does it actually star,” he said. “We cannot take 25-year-old male or female or college student and tell them, ‘You need to have your blood pressure and cholesterol checked. The guidelines do not push us for that yet, but there’s a big push for public education.”
Alfayoumi said when it comes to treatment, Brownsville doctors in particular have increased the number of heart disease patients they’re able to treat non-surgically. The use of the Impella heart pump, which rests the heart while blockages are fixed, has “increased substantially” over the past three years, he said. Use of the atherectomy device that rotates 200,000 times per minute and shaves plaque from heart valves has also increased, he added.
“ I have not send anyone to Houston in the last five years (for heart care). We can save a lot of lives we could not seem to save before,” Alfayoumi said, particularly when it comes to patients who are too weak or otherwise not good candidates for open heart surgery.
Still, the best treatment for heart disease ultimately is prevention, Alfayoumi said, especially considering that people with poorly controlled diabetes have high chances of cardiac problems.
Some of the American Heart Association’s guidelines for fighting heart disease are simple and commonly repeated pieces of advice:
>> Eat a well-balanced diet that’s low in salt
>> Limit alcohol
>> Enjoy regular physical activity
>> Manage stress
>> Maintain a healthy weight
>> Quit smoking