Why don’t we care more about people with a high risk of heart disease?

By Dr. Stafford W. Dobbin

Billions of dollars are being spent on tests to investigate people at high risk for cancers and nothing is done to investigate people for high risk of heart attack (and heart disease costs the country far more than any individual cancer for both men and women).

Instead, in this month of February (which is officially Heart Month) we always seem to shift our focus more on advice to improve behavior. Advice like: eat more heart healthy food, stop smoking, exercise more, etc.  But the reality is that more men and women will suffer from heart disease than will suffer from cancer. Even worse is the fact that very few people are at risk for cancer in their teens. Yet the disease that causes heart attacks and hardens the arteries (arteriosclerosis) starts in the first decade of life for those at high risk.

 Many studies have shown that individuals at high risk for hardened arteries will already have extensive arteriosclerotic streaking and plaque in their heart arteries, also called coronary arteries by the age of 25. Coronary thrombosis, or a clot in the coronary artery, (the term for a heart attack), will likely occur in middle age even if they adopt a better lifestyle in later years. The damage has already been done.

 Think about it…how many times have you heard of someone having a heart attack and his friends saying how fit he was and how strict with his diet and how he gave up smoking years ago?  The problem with this reasoning is that if he smoked as teenager, was not fit then and ate all the wrong food for years… he did have a high risk profile for a future heart attack, but it wasn’t recognized when the problem had started…as a teenager at school.

Did you know the only place in Canada that recognizes identifying early heart health risk is here in Niagara?  It’s all part of the Niagara Healthy Heart Schools Program run by Heart Niagara that goes into schools at Grade 9 and questions students and their parents on the major risk factors that put them in the high risk category.

So what are these risks?  Well, the big one first and foremost is family history. If your parent, or more likely at that age, grandparent had a heart attack in their 50s or before for men or 60s or before for women, quite simply…. you are at high risk.

Other risk factors that can be easily detected with the proper screening include blood cholesterol levels that are abnormal, a family history of diabetes, being overweight, high blood pressure, being a smoker and not exercising enough.  On top of this if student IS identified as being at high risk for future heart attack during school years because of the factors listed above…one, or both, of their parents may be at even higher risk.

So the good news in all of this is that if proper screening is done a heart attack is entirely preventable!  Perhaps as a resident of Niagara you have been through the Niagara Healthy Heart Schools Program and were contacted by Heart Niagara about potential high risk in your family.  If so, I recommend you should head off to your Family Doctor and get some further investigations done.

Final Thoughts on Heart Health

Prevention, for adolescents and their families should begin at school for heart disease, thus not allowing arteriosclerosis an opportunity of 30 more years to block an artery. Screening and prevention should also be in all of Canada not just in Niagara (why not The Canadian Healthy Heart Schools Program)?

I urge you to take a moment in this month of February to seriously consider the heart health of you and your loved ones.  For more information about Heart Niagara and all their heart health initiatives, please visit the website: heartniagara.com

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About the Author:  Dr. Stafford W. Dobbin

staffordDr. Stafford W. Dobbin is a graduate of Queens University Belfast and founded Heart Niagara in 1977. He established the first Department of Emergency Services in Niagara at the Greater Niagara General Hospital in 1976 and through Heart Niagara he initiated the teaching of Citizen Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation in Niagara and of Advanced Cardiac Life Support for Critical care personnel prior to the establishment of the Regional Paramedic program. His initial design for Heart Niagara included a Cardiac Rehabilitation Program for survivors of Cardiac events staffed by qualified Physicians and Nurses for which he was the Medical Director to 2002. Through Heart Niagara he started the Niagara Schools ‘Healthy Heart Program in 1985 and is the Medical Director. His EMS system for coverage of Mass Participation events was first used at the US Olympic Marathon trials in 1980 and he served on the first Executive of the International Marathon Directors Association. He is presently a partner in the Niagara Medical Group, a Family Health Team, in Niagara Falls.

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