News & Events

Secondary prevention is crucial to combating heart disease

February 21, 2014

By: Teresa Lafleur, RN, Windham Hospital Cardiology Department

Heart disease is still the number one killer in America. That’s the bad news. The good news is that with intensive secondary prevention, coronary heart disease patients can live longer with a much higher quality of life.

February is American Heart Month, a month dedicated to educating people about the risks for heart disease and encouraging people to make lifestyle choices that promote a healthy heart. The month is a reminder for people that there are certain risk factors they can control including diet, blood pressure, cholesterol, tobacco use and physical activity. For those with heart disease, intensively managing these risk factors can delay and even reverse its effects.

The American Heart Association (AHA) has outlined some important steps for secondary prevention for people with coronary and other atherosclerotic diseases. First (and certainly not shocking), the AHA recommends complete smoking cessation with no exposure to environmental tobacco smoke. In addition, a patient’s blood pressure should be less than 140/80, or less in diabetics and patients with kidney disease. A patient’s LDL (bad cholesterol) should be less than 100 mg/dl. Triglycerides should be less than 150 mg/dl. The aim is to have HDL (good cholesterol) in the 40 to 60 mg/dl range.

Exercise and weight management are key components of secondary prevention for heart disease patients. The AHA recommends 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per day five days a week, a body mass index of 18.5 to 24.9 and a waist circumference of less than 40 inches for men and less than to 35 inches for women.

These major lifestyle changes may seem daunting to tackle alone. Through provider-recommended cardiac rehabilitation programs like the ones at Windham and Backus hospitals, patients can work with clinical staff to establish a safe, personalized program. The programs can help educate patients about lifestyle changes including smoking cessation, diabetes control, stress management, healthy eating and weight management.

There’s no doubt that intensively managing these risk factors will reduce the recurrence of heart events and the need for interventional procedures. Adhering to the AHA guidelines, enrolling in a personalized cardiac rehab program and following the direction of a health care provider empowers heart disease patients to take control of the disease and improve their overall quality of life.