How Healthy is your Heart?

February is Heart Health Month, and definitely the perfect time to check up on the ones that you love. We often send flowers or chocolate to those that are special to us, but have you ever asked them “How Healthy is your Heart? Why should you even care?

For me, it is personal. I have lost several friends and family members to heart disease over the last decade, all before the age of 50. What was once a disease of the old, now strikes those in the prime years of their life. Heart Disease doesn’t discriminate based on age or gender, so let’s focus on prevention and ways to keep your heart healthy for life.

In addition to being the month of LOVE, February is also a time to get proactive about spreading the word about Heart Disease. There are many conditions that can affect the heart and its blood vessels. The following definitions have been adapted from the American Heart Association, for the terms that follow below.

The most common condition is Hypertension or High Blood Pressure. It affects nearly half of all American adults. This occurs when the pressure inside of the arteries rises above the range that is considered normal. Most recently the guidelines for Hypertension have been lowered. The top number (systolic pressure = when the heart beats), should fall below 130 mm Hg. The bottom number (diastolic pressure = when the heart relaxes), should fall below 80 mm Hg.

Unfortunately, most people have no symptoms that their blood pressure is elevated. However, over time Hypertension can cause the inside of the arteries to harden, or lead to a Heart Attack or Stroke.

Most people have heard the term “Heart Attack”. It means that the blood flow to a portion of the heart has become blocked, and that portion of the heart may begin to die if untreated. This is a medical emergency, and should be treated emergently in the hospital by a Cardiologist (Heart Doctor), who will attempt to restore blood flow to the heart. (Picture courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

The term ‘Stroke’ means that “a blood vessel that feeds the brain gets blocked or busts”. As a result, that portion of the brain may not work properly, nor that portion of the body that’s controlled by that part of the brain. This can happen from a gradual buildup of plaque in the artery wall, or a clot that lodges (embolus) from a different blood vessel.

“Heart failure” is another condition that has become increasingly more common. This happens when the heart does not pump blood very well, and can occur from a variety of conditions. This can also cause other parts of the body (such as the Kidneys or Liver) to function poorly, and should be managed under the care of a Cardiologist.

Cardiac Arrest is also a medical emergency, and is the most severe since death can occur within minutes. It happens when heart suddenly stops beating, and someone is pulseless and no longer breathing. After calling 911, this requires the initiation of CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation), and the use of an automated defibrillator (AED) if available.

Now that we have defined “Heart Disease”, let’s focus on what we can do to prevent these conditions. Nearly 80% of heart disease is preventable. In addition, to getting regular check-ups with your Primary Care Physician, try to focus on the following tips:

  • Follow a Heart Healthy Diet that is low in saturated and trans fats, as well as sodium. Add more plant-based proteins, vegetables, and fruit onto your plate each day.
  • Know what your blood pressure is. Your Doctor may recommend the addition of medications and other changes if it is elevated.
  • Perform aerobic exercise at least 150 minutes per week if you are able. Add a couple days of muscle strengthening each week as well. In general, stay as physically active as possible on most days of the week.
  • Know your BMI (Body Mass Index). If you are overweight or obese, work with your Doctor so they can help you achieve a healthier weight.
  • Don’t start smoking, and Quit if you already do. Ask your Doctor for assistance.
  • Know your Blood Sugar. Lowering your blood sugar into the normal range can help to lower your risk of Heart Diseases.
  • Add daily relaxation techniques into your schedule. Try deep breathing, yoga, and meditation as ways to help lower stress
  • Limit alcohol consumption to less than 1 drink/day (women) or 2 drinks/day (men).
  • Sleep between 6-8 hours each night to improve your energy levels, alertness, and underling health conditions.

Together, we can keep the spotlight on Heart Disease, even when the month of February has passed. If you are also tired of losing friends and family to these conditions, then please continue to spread the word along with this article.

Dr. Karla Vital is a Board-Certified Nephrologist (Kidney Doctor) and Obesity Medicine (Weight Loss) Doctor who sees patients in Southeast Houston. She is the CEO and Owner of Vital Health and Wellness Center. Dr. Vital is passionate about Prevention, and Empowering those on their journey to Optimal Wellness. Learn more on her website, Reach out and connect with her at or

* All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.