Top tips for better heart health

Coronary artery disease remains the largest killer in the Western world, despite significant advances in our understanding, diagnosis and management of the condition. Most importantly, a large amount of potential suffering could be reduced with attention to simple maintenance. So, what can you do to reduce your risk of a heart attack?

  • Make a decision. Decide to look after your heart health. This is important because it’s easy to say you’ll do this and do that – but unless you make a decision and commit to follow through, you’re kidding yourself.
  • Go and see your GP. Not only will your GP check your blood pressure, blood sugar, lipid profile (cholesterol levels) and your general state of health (how’s that tummy?), they will also give you the guidance you need to head in the right direction and then, most importantly, bring you back for follow-up. This means accountability.
  • Make small sustainable changes. There’s no point turning your life on its head trying to go from couch potato to Olympian. If the changes are not sustainable, then you wont sustain them! Look to make small changes by degree, with your GP guiding you about best bang for your buck in terms of effort.
  • Just do it. If your GP advises you to change lifestyle or take tablets, it’s because they believe it will make a difference to your health – so just do it!
  • Ask the experts. If you have questions or are unsure about advice, seek out your GP for a sensible consultation and discussion, and do this sooner rather than later. My experience is that more and more people these days seek help from ‘Doctor Google’ – the information can be unreliable and there’s no way to make sure it’s relevant to you. Get good advice and it can pay dividends for the rest of your life.
  • Need more information? Modern technology has evolved to allow us to look at the arteries of the heart in a ‘non-invasive’ way (ie, without any cutting) using CT or CAT scanning. This is fairly new and not subject to any formalised guidelines in Australia. But the test does give extra information in certain situations, and may then be useful for the individual and GP involved to tailor care. The sort of issues heart imaging may help with are:
  1. “My cholesterol is high, is there build-up in my arteries?”
  2. “I have a bad family history with hearts, should I be concerned?”
  3. “My doctor says I should be on a statin, but do I really need one?”
  4. “I’m on a statin, but I suffer side effects. Do I really need a high dose or would a lower dose be enough?”
  5. “A friend the same age just dropped dead from a heart attack. What’s my risk?”

Though not routine and not covered by a government rebate, some patients choose to pursue such questions so that they have the most information available, and are best informed to make important decisions about managing their future cardiovascular risk.

  • Live as well as possible for as long as possible.<subhead> The years fly by, so make the most of them. Keep active, keep a healthy weight, keep in contact with your GP, and work on your best health because, as we all know, prevention is better than cure.

Dr Warrick Bishop is a practising cardiologist and author of the new book Have You Planned Your Heart Attack? (RRP $34.99), now available at Amcal, all good book shops and online at www.haveyouplannedyourheartattack.com.au