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Understanding and Managing Your Heart Health

March 1, 2018

Authored by Dr. Joseph Chavez Carey, Primary Care Physician of Orange Regional Medical Group

Doctor checking a female patient's heart with a stethoscope.

What is Heart Failure?

Heart failure is a specific type of heart disease. The heart’s job is to be a pump – to pump blood throughout our bodies – and when it isn’t pumping as well as it should, we refer to that as heart failure. It is brought on by situations that cause damage the heart, like coronary artery disease and heart attack.

In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 5.7 million adults in the United States were living with heart failure, and that approximately half of people who develop heart failure tend to die within five years of their diagnosis.

Despite these statistics and its terminal-sounding name, heart failure does not mean that the heart stops, such as in cases of cardiac arrest. Heart failure is a chronic condition where the heart is still doing its job, but not to its full capacity. In fact, heart failure is something that people can actually manage.

There are very effective medications these days, and with proper medical attention and a commitment to positive lifestyle changes, heart failure can be manageable.

Lifestyle Changes to Manage or Prevent Heart Failure

When we talk about lifestyle changes, we’re talking primarily about adjusting your diet and exercise particularly eating healthier and moving more.

Maintaining a Healthy Diet

When it comes to diet, some doctors recommend reducing sodium intake. There have been some recent studies indicating that foods once considered to be too high in cholesterol and fat – things like eggs, butter – might not be as bad as previously thought.

Ask your doctor what foods may be right for a heart healthy diet; she or he will know what’s best for you based on your specific risk factors for heart-related issues and family history.

With my patients, I share these dietary guidelines that can help with both blood pressure and cholesterol: Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and eat a high fiber diet. Dietary fiber actually goes into the blood stream and can absorb cholesterol out of your blood stream. If you lay off of processed foods in favor of more naturally occurring choices, including whole grains, watch out for saturated fats and opt for lean meats, you’ll be doing well.

Watching Your Cholesterol and Blood Pressure Levels

With cholesterol, the ranges for total cholesterol level range from Desirable (Less than 200mg/dL), to Borderline (200-239 mg/dL), to High (240mg/dL and up). My sense is that just because a food has cholesterol in it, it may not be essentially bad for your overall cholesterol levels. However, those foods tend to be high in calories, which raises the potential for weight issues. Weight issues are often of greater concern when it comes to heart health than the cholesterol itself.

Because heart failure can be caused by a heart attack, you may wish to control the things that can lead to that. So, think about something that can lead to a heart attack: uncontrolled high blood pressure.

When it comes to measuring blood pressure and cholesterol levels, there have been recent changes to the established guidelines. For blood pressure, the new standard is 130 over 80. If your blood pressure is in the 130’s over 80’s, that’s not normal; above it, you have hypertension.

So, that range is where you want to start thinking about improving on things like diet, exercise and weight loss to help bring your pressure down into a normal range. While more restrictive than the prior standard, I like the new guideline for the increased emphasis it places on prevention.

Understanding Your Risk of Heart Attack

With this information, along with other information like:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Blood pressure

Doctors can use what is called a Health Risk Calculator to assess a patient’s risk of having a heart attack. If a patient is categorized as high risk, then that can lead to discussion of cholesterol drug treatment to help avoid a heart attack and resulting damage to the heart muscle.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Heart Failure

There are tests you take to determine if you have heart failure, and you should consult your primary care physician to find out if one is appropriate for you. If you are diagnosed with heart failure, your doctor will be able to guide you through your choices for treatment, which can include medications and even devices to help the heart function properly.

As always, if you are healthy, your best bet is to avoid it all together. This Heart Month, choose to set yourself up for longevity and vitality. Begin working heart healthy choices into your day, every day.


This article was authored by Joseph Chavez Carey, MD of Orange Regional Medical Group.

Joseph Chavez Carey, MD, FAAFP of Orange Regional Medical Group Primary Care team.Joseph Chavez Carey, MD
Dr. Chavez Carey is an Orange Regional Medical Group Primary Care Physician. He is Board-certified in Family Medicine, Fluent in Spanish.

He received his medical degree from New York University School of Medicine, New York and completed his internship and residency at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center, California.

To make an appointment with Dr. Chavez Carey, please call 845-333-7830.

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