Wiregrass sees high prevalence of Coronary Artery Disease, health professionals share tips to avoid a diagnosis

Updated: Feb. 21, 2023 at 4:30 PM CST
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) - Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

This disease blocks the arteries that supply blood to the heart and can result in a heart attack. However, health experts stress that if you modify potential risk factors, it can help avoid a diagnosis.

Some of the nation’s risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity, according to the CDC. The Wiregrass is not immune to these risks.

Dr. Adam Eppler said the southeast sees a high frequency of CAD patients.

“Simply because of the high prevalence of certain lifestyle and decisions such as smoking, or high fatty foods, high sugar intake,” Dr. Eppler, cardiothoracic surgeon, said. “There’s a lot of diabetes and obesity in this area and both of those can contribute to coronary artery disease.”

Dr. Eppler explains the signs and symptoms CAD can cause in a person.

“You can develop things such as chest pain, shortness of breath and eventually heart attacks and heart failure,” Dr. Eppler said.

He said that sometimes the disease is inherited. A person can receive a diagnosis even if they do not take part or have any of the risk factors of CAD.

“Often it’s simply from genetics; sometimes there is nothing you can do to prevent it,” Dr. Eppler said.

However, he does add that CAD can sometimes be preventable. Dr. Eppler said to reduce your risk of a CAD diagnosis to adjust potential risk factors in your daily routine like your diet.

“People develop habits over a long period of time that can become more and more unhealthy, and it’s really difficult to reverse some of those habits when it becomes entrenched,” Dr. Eppler said. “I know people are not going to stop eating fried food, and that’s okay, but everything is in moderation.”

Jessie White is a registered dietician and the owner of Nourished Nutrition Consulting.

“You can’t go wrong with any fruit or vegetable,” White said.

She explains to her clients that your diet has an effect on their overall health.

“A lot of times people don’t think about food as medicine; it’s not just about calories,” White said. “It’s about the fight of nutrients and the powers in these foods. So, when you incorporate more plants, they do have these fighter nutrients that really help fight and prevent disease in the body.”

She said one of the best heart-healthy diets is the Mediterranean diet, which includes ingredients like nuts, seeds and healthy oils; specifically olive oil.

“The green vegetables are huge,” White said. “The leafy green vegetables are full of nutrition, full of fiber, which is a really, really big deal for heart health. Fruits, any kind of fruit really, especially, you know, people don’t really think about avocado being a fruit, so that’s actually a really great one to have because it’s full of the healthy fats.”

Other risk factors Dr. Eppler suggests people modify for the better are their physical activity. He suggests for people to avoid being inactive by getting active.

“Just getting out there and walking, doing some gentle exercising like jogging can make a really big difference early on and eventually you can work your way up and develop more health benefits,” Dr. Eppler said.

He said consistency in adding new healthy habits into your routine is key.

“I really believe that once people are used to it and once and individual makes it a part of their routine, it becomes something that they don’t want to do without anymore,” Dr. Eppler said.

He said to avoid tobacco use because that also puts a person at a high risk of developing heart disease.

“It’s extremely difficult for patients to quit smoking and on average there is a lot of data that suggests that most patients who successfully quit smoking have done so on their 7th attempt,” Dr. Eppler said. “So, I would encourage individuals that if they smoke and if they have tried to quit smoking and they have been unsuccessful, try again because most people are not able to quit on their first attempt.”

For patients who are diagnosed with a risk factor, possibly from genetics, such as high glucose or diabetes, are at a higher risk of a heart attack. Dr. Eppler said a step to reducing that risk is to monitor.

“Just control that diabetes as well as possible, pay really close attention to your glucose levels and your insulin and follow the instructions from your doctor as well as you can,” Dr. Eppler said.

CAD is treatable. Dr. Eppler said some patients require surgery.

“Some patients require surgery and that would be a CABG,” Dr. Eppler said. “That stands for Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting. When we do that, it allows blood to flow past those blockages and feeds the heart muscle the blood that it needs, and we’ve done that for years and years and it’s one of the most common procedures done in the United States. We’ve had really great successes with it.”

If you feel symptoms of chest pain, shortness of breath, and especially fainting or loss of consciousness, please seek medical attention.

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