Doctor Talks Heart Health

ST. MARYS — Dr. Zoheir Abdelbaki, “Dr. Baki,” chief of cardiology at St. Rita’s Medical Center, discussed risk factors for heart disease with contenders in the Grand Health Challenge Tuesday night in Memorial High School auditorium, covering how to help and heal the heart as well as which risk factors are changeable and which are fixed.

To picture the heart, he asked the participants to visualize all the blood flowing in the arteries, and realize that inside each vein there was a tissue coating akin to the non-stick surface of a pan.

Heart problems happen, he explained, when that coating gets scratched. Normally the bad cholesterol or triglycerides would slide along, but when the passage is scratched, it gives the bad substance a place to stick, building up plaque and causing health problems.

To prevent those scratches, he said, there are seven risk factors — two fixed and the rest affectable.

First, he explained, is family history. People with a family history that includes multiple blood relatives with bypasses or heart problems at a young age have a higher risk of having problems themselves.

People with that family history can get stress tests or CT scans that will show if they’ve begun to develop problems.

The second risk factor that isn’t changeable is age. Older people, Abdelbaki said, have simply had more wear and tear on their bodies.

The risk factors people can affect are having high cholesterol and high triglycerides, smoking, unmanaged diabetes, hypertension and weight.

With high cholesterol, he said there’s good and bad cholesterol — the good heals the damage to the vessels and the bad lodges in and causes plaque buildup. For bad cholesterol, there’s not a lot of effect from changing diet and exercise, he said.

“Moving that 20 points is miles and miles,” he said of trying to change that number.

For people with high cholesterol, there are medications that can help. Triglycerides, what Abdelbaki called “the other bad boy” for the heart is directly related to what a person eats, and people can do something about that number, he said, by eating well.

The next risk factor was smoking.

“Smoking is the worst enemy,” Abdelbaki said, noting it makes it so easy for plaque to build up all throughout the body, and can lead to stroke, heart attack or unexpected death. “Second hand is just as bad.”

Another risk factor was diabetes and hypertension. If a person with diabetes is letting their sugar go unmanaged, he said, they were creating more scratching and higher risk of heart disease and plaque buildup.

Blood pressure was the next risk factor for building plaque, and finally he came to weight.

Weight by itself is not the problem, he said. The latest research shows that just being overweight doesn’t hurt the heart.

It’s the part that being overweight plays in developing the other risk factors.

“Weight is a big deal,” he said, noting it increases the risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other problems.

The good news is that exercise plays a tremendous role in healing those scratches.

“The more you exercise the more you help,” he said.

 For people who had already undergone bypass or had problems with their heart he said the important thing to know was that it’s not too late for exercise to help.

“Absolutely not,” he said.