Shelley Kirk: A startling fact from the Indiana Department of Health, men in Indiana die from heart disease at a greater rate than those in the U.S. overall. We want to know more about this trend, so today we have Dr. Srikanth Penumetsa, an interventional cardiologist from Deaconess Health here to talk about what this means for you and me. Why does Indiana have such a high rate of men dying from the disease, what’s so different about Indiana?
Dr. Penumetsa: If you look at the risk factors for people to develop heart disease, we generally classify them as modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors. Some risk factors such as genetics, and being a man is a risk factor in itself. And age is a significant risk factor, too. These are things that you have very little or no control over. There are other factors which are modifiable such as smoking, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, which we have control over, we can modify them. In this region, my observation has been our obesity rates are very high, I’ve seen some people in their forties that are really obese. Our smoking rates are very high, so I think those are the factors that are increasing the risk of heart disease.
Shelley: So it sounds very lifestyle oriented. Are you surprised to see this in Southwestern Indiana?
Dr. Penumetsa: I’ve seen some regional variation in lifestyles that increase the risk of heart disease. In California, for example, the lifestyle is better, the risk of heart disease is lower. In this region, I’ve noticed the unhealthy lifestyles that increase the risk of heart disease are very high among younger people.
Shelley: Why does it seem that men are more susceptible to this than women?
Dr. Penumetsa: It’s an observation, it’s probably horomonal makeup in younger women in the reproductive age that is protective against heart disease. It is a significant observation that the male gender increases the risk of heart disease. I’m not sure that there is a specific reason that I could put my finger on.
Shelley: Even though I said that it’s important to note that women need to be careful, too. Let’s talk about the signs and symptoms, what do you look for in as symptomatic in heart disease?
Dr. Penumetsa: When people have heart attacks, it is common that people sit at home assuming that the chest pain or the burning they’re having is from acid reflux. That is common reason that people miss a heart attack. Chest pain is a typical symptom that people have when they have a heart attack. It is not uncommon that a lot of people have jaw pain, left shoulder pain, upper back pain or severe sharpness of breath or just an episode where they are profusely sweating and feel lightheaded. These are all the different symptoms that people have when they have heart attack. Not everybody has the typical symptoms of chest pain that I described.
Shelley: Preventing heart disease, you just mentioned a lot of things that are lifestyle oriented, diabetes, inactive, what should we be doing to correct this, and not be so susceptible to heart disease?
Dr. Penumetsa: We have to pay a lot of attention to the modifiable risk factors that I mentioned earlier and a huge part of it is lifestyle. Eating healthy, exercising regularly, trying to maintain a healthy weight, not smoking and taking care of health conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes and high cholesterol, these are things we can do to try and prevent heart disease.
Shelley: And at what point do you need to see a doctor?
Dr. Penumetsa: One of the strengths of our health system is primary care and our ability to prevent disease. It is totally reasonable for anybody over the age of 40 to see their primary care doctor regularly and get screening tests done to make sure their cholesterol levels are fine, make sure their blood pressure is well controlled and make sure they don’t have diabetes. Then of course things such as eat healthy, exercise regularly, don’t smoke, things like that.
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(This story was originally published on June 27, 2018)