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Check our doctors' tips to improving your heart health this month.

When it comes to heart health, experts at Baylor College of Medicine say it is important to know your family history and risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Knowing where you stand in terms of cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight is an important part of starting a healthy lifestyle and preventing heart ailments such as heart attack or stroke.  Your doctor can help you determine the best and most effective way to manage your health. 

Here are some other tips Baylor experts have given over the years:

"Even if you don’t have a family history of heart disease you should still talk to your doctor about your heart health during your yearly exam, which should include a blood pressure check and lipid and cholesterol test. You and your doctor can decide how often to follow up."
-Dr. Christie M. Ballantyne, professor, section chief of cardiology and cardiovascular research in the Department of Medicine, director of The Maria and Alando J. Ballantyne, M.D. Atherosclerosis Clinical Research Laboratory, director of the Center for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at the Methodist DeBakey Heart Center and co-director of the Lipid Metabolism and Atherosclerosis Clinic at The Methodist Hospital.

"Open communication with your doctors is key to improving heart health. Ask questions; medical professionals can explain why certain treatments or lifestyle changes are important. Let your doctor know when you face challenges and keep all other specialists you see involved so everyone understands your treatment needs."
-Dr. Vijay Nambi, assistant professor of medicine – section of cardiovascular research at Baylor, staff cardiologist at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Hospital, Ben Taub Hospital and the Houston Methodist Center for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention.

"Don’t forget the follow-ups. These secondary doctor visits are needed to monitor progression of risk factors or treatments. If a doctor recommends a follow-up evaluation within the next two years, but the patient ignores the advice and waits five years, health problems could worsen or turn into another health issue, such as heart disease."
-Dr. Joseph Coselli, professor of surgery at Baylor and chief of Adult Cardiac Surgery at the Texas Heart Institute.

"Reduce your weight and you could reduce your risk of heart disease. There are genetic and environmental reasons that contribute to heart disease. But for many people, having a healthy weight may prevent the disease or make heart health more manageable."
-Dr. Hani Jneid, assistant professor and director of interventional cardiology research at Baylor, and interventional cardiologist at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center.

"Medication adherence has been shown to improve cardiovascular health, but not everyone takes their medication on time or refills on a regular basis. To help remember to do so, talk to your doctor about how the medications work. Understanding why they are important may help you remember to take them. If you hear about possible side effects or experience them, be open with your doctor rather than deciding on your own to stop taking your medicine. You may not be at risk for those side effect or there may be other options or combinations to try."
Dr. Salim S. Virani, assistant professor of medicine at Baylor and cardiologist at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

"Reducing stress could help improve heart health. There is evidence stress is associated with cardiovascular events. One of the reasons for an increase in heart ailments during high-stress situations is the sudden rise of adrenaline and other hormones in the body. Though the initial effect of these hormones is to allow the body to cope with stress, long-term effects can be harmful. Also, heart rate and blood pressure increase during stressful situations."
-Dr. Biykem Bozkurt, professor of medicine at Baylor and chief of cardiology at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center, director of the Winters Center for Heart Failure Research at Baylor College of Medicine and a physician with the Baylor Heart Clinic and Women's Center for Comprehensive Care at Baylor.

"Age should not limit when to begin a heart healthy lifestyle. Children often take cues from parents, so making healthy choices should be a part of everyday life. Set time limits for television and video games, schedule family walks after dinner or regular trips to the park. Let your children try new sports or outdoor games until they find an interest that keeps them moving."
-Dr. Daniel J. Penny, professor of pediatric cardiology at Baylor and chief of Cardiology at Texas Children's Hospital 

"Health eating can promote a healthy heart, but having picky eaters can make healthy eating difficult when it comes to kids. Present children with a variety of healthy choices and continue to offer foods they don’t like as choices for other family members. Children may eventually try something new."
-Dr. Karen Cullen, an associate professor of pediatrics - nutrition at Baylor

"One of the leading causes of death for people with diabetes is cardiovascular disease caused by high blood pressure. Diabetes accelerates the cardiovascular disease. Many people think that if you control the diabetes then the other health issues will disappear. However, diabetic control does not change the survival of the patient as one would anticipate if you ignore the other cardiovascular disease risks. It is important to talk to your doctor about not only controlling glucose levels but also blood pressure and lipids."
-Dr. James Pool, professor of medicine and director of the Hypertension and Clinical Pharmacology Research Clinic at Baylor.

"See a doctor if you snore – it could be a sign of underlying obstructive sleep apnea, which increases your risk of cardiovascular disease. No definitive studies show a direct link between treating sleep apnea and preventing or curing heart ailments, however, there is a strong connection between the two: both share common risk factors, and when they present together the patient is at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease complications. All issues must be treated by the proper doctor – a cardiologist for heart health, and a sleep expert for obstructive sleep apnea."
-Dr. Ihab Hamzeh, assistant professor of medicine – cardiology at Baylor.

"Be aware of the difference in heart attack symptoms for men and women. A significant number of women do not experience the typical debilitating chest pain. Women often experience fatigue and sleep disturbance prior to a heart attack. While some do experience chest pain, it is in the form of pressure or squeezing in the center of the chest spreading to the neck, shoulder or jaw, sometimes experienced with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath."
-Dr. Tina Shah, assistant professor of medicine – cardiology at Baylor and also with the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center.

"In some cases lifestyle modifications can eliminate the need for pharmacologic therapy to treat certain risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure and cholesterol. It is important to focus on these seven points to improve your cardiovascular health: physical activity, diet, weight loss, cholesterol level, blood pressure levels, blood sugar and smoking. Always let your doctor know what changes you will be making."
-Dr. John Farmer, professor of medicine – cardiology at Baylor.