Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States—with more people dying of heart disease and stroke than all forms of cancer combined, warns Dr. James McPherson, who provides state-of-the-art care for patients at Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgeons of Ventura County.
“Of cancers, the leading cause of cancer death is lung cancer,” explains Dr. McPherson, further emphasizing that there are many people walking around with heart and lung disease and they don't know it.
“The risk factors for both heart and lung disease are the same,” he notes, adding that the first symptom can be a major heart attack. Therefore, “it's important to get a doctor who can examine you on an annual basis and order the appropriate tests. That way, patients can be alerted to small problems before they become bigger ones.”
At Dr. McPherson’s practice—which specializes in early diagnosis and minimally invasive treatment of heart, lung and vascular disease—he performs all aspects of adult cardiothoracic surgery, from minimally invasive surgical treatments for lung cancer to open heart surgery, including coronary artery bypass graft surgery, aortic and mitral valve surgery, and transcatheter aortic valve replacement. Dr. McPherson is also skilled in traditional and minimally invasive surgical approaches, including robotic-assisted surgery for more precise results, less tissue damage, and faster recovery times.
When it comes to heart health, “the biggest myth is that because you feel fine, nothing could possibly be wrong,” he says. However, “there is a reason that hypertension is called the ‘silent killer.’ If you are in a high risk category, you could be carrying a briefcase full of dynamite and not know it.”
What makes a person high risk? According to Dr. McPherson, contributing factors can include obesity, diabetes, cigarette smoking, a stressful job or lifestyle, family history or lack of exercise.
“If you have any of these things, you should not assume that you don't have heart disease unless a doctor tells you that you don't based on an exam and testing,” he stresses.
Another misconception is women don't get heart disease—which is simply “wrong.”
“Not only do women get heart disease, because their symptoms are often less straightforward, they are at higher risk of dying from a heart attack,” Dr. McPherson says.
Fortunately, there are some ways that people can keep their heart healthy. Dr. McPherson offers the following insight:
+ You are what you eat! Try to cut down on fatty foods and red meat. Eat more fish, skinless chicken and salad.
+ Exercise. The pandemic has made going to the gym impossible. You can still exercise at home. I advise my patients to walk 15 to 20 minutes in the morning and another 15 to 20 minutes in the afternoon. Increase by five minutes each week.
+ Be a champion of your own health. During your next trip to the drugstore or supermarket, buy a blood pressure monitor and a notebook. Start taking your blood pressure at home and recording it in the notebook. That notebook is now your health journal. Write down new medications, side effects and appointments. Doctors take you more seriously when they see that you take your health seriously.
+ Find a doctor. Someone you trust and feel comfortable visiting and being honest with. An annual exam, including a physical, EKG, chest X-ray and blood tests, is a great investment in your long-term health. Discovering a problem early can be important in avoiding major surgery.
In additional tips, Dr. McPherson recommends the following should be avoided to help maintain a healthy heart:
+ Cigarettes. Number one risk factor for heart disease and lung cancer.
+ Excessive fatty food intake. The fat goes in through the mouth and ends up lining your arteries.
+ Toxic people. Stress is a very strong determinant of hypertension and heart disease. Take a good look at the people around you. Spend more time with those who uplift you and less time with those who bring you down.
For people who think it’s too late to make their heart healthy, “I can tell you that it’s never too late to start investing in your health,” Dr. McPherson emphasizes. “Most of my surgical patients have gone beyond the window of prevention. I tell patients who have had surgery to think of today as the first day of the “second half” of your life. Most conditions can be controlled, if not reversed. Partner with your doctor to get the results you want.”
In today’s challenging and uncertain times, “the pandemic has increased all of our stress levels,” he emphasizes. Unfortunately, heart and lung disease does not take a break during the pandemic.
“Getting the virus is bad enough. Those of us who did not get the virus have to deal with decreased incomes, difficulty running a business, being at home and not having the outlet of our favorite bars or restaurants,” Dr. McPherson says.
It all adds up to undue stress, he says.
“After Hurricane Katrina, many people in Louisiana experienced an increase in heart disease, aortic dissections and stroke, all of which can be attributed to hypertension and stress. Underlying conditions increase your risk of a poor outcome if you contract the virus. Protect yourself by protecting your heart.”
Above all, “be a champion of your own health—heart and lung disease are serious, but we can beat it. I am here to help.”
Dr. McPherson is the Medical Director of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgeons of Ventura County and the Southern California Vein Center with locations at 1700 N. Rose Ave., Suite 420 in Oxnard; 805.988.2033 and 640 S. San Vicente Blvd., Suite 498, in Los Angeles; 323.480.0275. For more information, visit https://www.venturacountyheartsurgery.com/ or https://www.southerncaliforniaveincenter.com/.