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Lifestyle Changes Are Key To Preventing Heart Disease

October 1, 2014

David L. Brown, MD, is a cardiologist at the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Heart & Vascular Center on the Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital campus. He has expertise in general preventive cardiology and sports cardiology.

Although he has special expertise in the evaluation and treatment of patients with coronary artery disease, Dr. Brown also treats patients with heart failure, arrhythmias and heart valve disease as well as combinations of these problems. As the team cardiologist for a Division 1 athletic program in New York for 10 years, Dr. Brown also has experience treating cardiac issues in competitive athletes of all ages. He emphasizes the importance of lifestyle changes to preventing heart disease.

What common risk factors are associated with heart disease?

The most common risk factors are diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity and a lack of physical activity or a sedentary lifestyle. There are also risk factors that cannot be controlled, such as gender, age and family history.

How do patients determine if they should see a cardiologist and what should they expect at their first appointment?

Patients may be referred by their primary care physician, following a hospitalization when they’ve shown signs of heart disease, or they may self refer when they are concerned about their own risk factors. When I first see patients, we take a medical history, perform a physical examination, conduct a baseline electrocardiogram, or EKG, discuss their lifestyle habits such as exercise and diet, and go through a risk assessment. The risk assessment consists of questions about a patient’s age, gender, weight, cholesterol, blood pressure and activity levels. As you connect risk factors, you can see what a patient’s risk may be for heart disease and work from there to reduce that risk.

What changes can patients make to their lifestyles to lessen their risk of heart disease?

A healthy diet and exercise have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease by up to 80 percent. I often recommend a Mediterranean diet because it is one of the most researched diets and has proven successful for those who want to make changes. We have access to dietitians for those who would like additional guidance. I also stress the importance of exercise. People do not have to invest a lot of money in a gym or on electronic tracking devices. They really just need a good pair of walking shoes and to start walking short distances at first that they can build upon over time. Other areas that may pose a risk are stress and even periodontal disease, which leads to inflammation in your mouth and can impact your heart. Finally, if you are serious about taking care of yourself, you have to quit smoking.

What about those patients who have other health concerns, such as those with diabetes?

Diabetes is a major risk factor for heart disease. If someone comes to me with diabetes, I may treat that patient a little more aggressively to prevent the development of heart disease. Individuals with Type 2 diabetes can also be positively impacted by a change in diet and exercise, which may lead to reducing or eliminating some medications. As diet and exercise reduce weight, lower blood pressure and improve metabolism, medications used to treat blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar can often be reduced or sometimes eliminated altogether.

Why would you recommend The Heart & Vascular Center at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital?

Patients can find a full range of cardiology services, including prevention, diagnosis and rehabilitation. It is a great location, easily accessible and a wonderful, peaceful environment that is conducive to healing, plus it has access to physicians at Washington University who are national leaders in the field. Patients don’t need to go anywhere else.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. David L. Brown, or a physician at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital, please call 314.542.WEST (9378).

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