Questions of the heart - Cardiologist answers common heart-related questions

February 24, 2021

February is American Heart Month

Dr. Stephen Frossard(Paducah, Ky.) Feb. 24, 2021 — Cardiologist Stephen Frossard, DO, is new to Baptist Health Medical Group Cardiology, previously known as the Heart Group, but the questions he receives from patients are anything but new.

Dr. Frossard has answered some of the most frequently asked questions he receives about the heart. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women in the U.S., so what better time than American Heart Month in February to learn more about our heart health.

What are the greatest risk factors for heart disease?

Dr. Frossard: The six biggest risk factors for heart disease are your age, family history of heart disease in first-degree relatives, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking and obesity. Unfortunately, the first two we cannot change, but the others we are able to modify in our favor. Seeing your doctor on a regular basis and taking medications for high blood pressure and high cholesterol are important. Quitting smoking is very difficult, but also very important to keeping your heart healthy. Eating healthy foods and exercising at least three times per week will also help significantly.

Are the signs of a heart attack different for men and women?

Dr. Frossard: Yes, unfortunately, the signs of a heart attack are different in everyone. Men will typically get the classic chest pressure/tightness with radiation into their left arm and jaw, with shortness of breath, nausea and sweating. Women and diabetics, on the other hand, can present with a multitude of different symptoms and sometimes can have a heart attack with no symptoms at all!

When should I go to the ER – what signs/symptoms should I look for?

Dr. Frossard: Anytime you have chest pains you should consider your heart as a possible cause. The location of the pain, what it feels like, how long it lasts and what you were doing when it started are all important.  A heart attack will typically be located on the left side of the chest and feel like someone is sitting on you and pushing down. It will typically last for a few seconds to minutes and improve with rest. The pain will usually start when you are exerting yourself and doing activities.

Does family history play a role in my risk factor for heart disease?

Yes, but only in first-degree relatives. This includes your mother and father, as well as brothers and sisters and children. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins are much less likely to be of any clinical significance.

Is there a health risk assessment I can take?

Yes, there are numerous risk assessment calculators on the Internet, including the Baptist Health Paducah website. They usually check for the risk factors for heart disease, including your age, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, etc. The risk score that I typically use with my patients is the ASCVD 10-year risk of heart disease or stroke algorithm from the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology.  Based on each patient's specific numbers, we can recommend which medications you would most greatly benefit from to prevent heart disease.

How do I know if I am having heartburn or a heart attack?

Unfortunately, there is a lot of overlap between these two diseases and sometimes we simply cannot tell without advanced cardiac tests in the hospital. Typically, heartburn will develop after you just finished eating a spicy meal or one that is high in carbohydrates and fats. It also will typically develop while you are sitting down and resting.  A heart attack will have no association with when you ate and will typically occur when you are exerting yourself and improve with resting.

How does obesity contribute to heart disease?

Obesity is part of what is known as the metabolic syndrome or syndrome X, which is a group of conditions, that when combined, increase your risk for heart disease. High blood pressure, high blood sugars and obesity, in particular excess fat around the waist, have been shown in studies to increase your risk the most for developing heart disease.  Eating healthy and exercising at least three times per week for around 50 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity can greatly reduce your risk.

Dr. Frossard specializes in diagnosing, treating and preventing diseases of the cardiovascular system. His services focus on a whole-person approach to treatment.

Baptist Health Medical Group Cardiology is located in Suite 301, Walker Medical Park 1, inside Baptist Health Paducah. To schedule an appointment, phone 270.575.3113.