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Heart Smart Living
Heart Smart Living

Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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Best Practices for a Healthy Heart, Step 6: Know Your Options

My book, Best Practices for a Healthy Heart: How to Stop Heart Disease Before or After it Starts, will be released in June by The Experiment publishing house. In the book, I outline seven important steps that will help you to achieve optimum heart health and provide you with powerful protection against stroke, dementia, and even cancer.

We’ve gone through Step One (Know Your Numbers), Step Two (Eat Well to Live Better), Step Three (Learn How to Take a Break without Checking Out), Step Four (Get a Move On), and  Step 5 (Use Your Common Sense). In Step 6 (Know Your Options), I’ll explain how doctors make decisions about what medications to prescribe, and how vitamins, supplements, and complementary and alternative practices may play a role in keeping your heart healthy and strong. I’ll also tell you how all these modalities can go awry, and help you become an advocate for your own health care.

Since this “step” covers such a broad range of issues, I’ll start with the first chapter of this section, “The Power of Preventive Medicine.” As a physician, I often meet patients who are skeptical about the role of Western medicine. Perhaps they’ve had a bad experience, or maybe they simply have a hard time understanding exactly what it is we do.

Your Doctor's Medical Education

I think it’s important to have some understanding of what goes into a physician’s medical education. To become a cardiologist, I spent four years in college, four years in medical school, three years in residency for Internal Medicine, and four years doing my training in Cardiology. I am also required to meet state and national requirements for yearly continuing medical education. Every 10 years or so I have to take a grueling exam to keep my board certification. (And since I have several certifications to keep up with, there is always an exam on the horizon.) While none of this assures that I or anyone else will be a good doctor, it does mean that your physician is required to meet certain standards that are rigorous and ongoing.

A common perception is that doctors just want to prescribe pills and send their patients on their way. In years past, we were often accused of being “in bed with” big pharmaceutical companies, but with the advent of a wide array of well-priced generics, this argument doesn’t hold water. (Not that it ever did, except in rare situations.)

I understand the reluctance to take prescription drugs, but the reality is that these drugs, in many cases, save lives. For instance, while Americans’ lifestyles are becoming increasingly less healthy, heart disease deaths have dropped by a full 25 percent over the past 10 years. Those lives saved and disabilities prevented are thanks to modern medical and technical innovations.

Medical Therapy

Since as much as 70 percent of heart disease is caused by poor lifestyle choices, including diet, lack of exercise, and smoking, the need for medical therapy can often be avoided simply by opting for a healthier way of life. Even if we can’t completely avoid such problems as hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol, it’s often possible to minimize the amount (and cost) of medical therapy by exercising and losing weight.

In the next few weeks, I’ll tell you more about vitamins, supplements, and alternative therapies, and how they can affect your health for better, or for worse.

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Tags: You and Your Doctor

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About the Author


Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.