February is Heart Month, so we sat down with a cardiologist at the Heart and Vascular Center at Comanche County Memorial Hospital to see how to prevent heart problems. Coronary artery disease, also referred to as coronary heart disease, is when there’s a blockage in the arteries, which could lead to a heart attack.

Doctor Tomasz Swierkosz, a cardiologist at the Heart and Vascular Center, said you should know your numbers early. He said you should know your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and make sure your sugars aren’t elevated by late teens or early college.

“Also, to pay attention to your weight and lifestyle with regular exercise,” he said. “And if any of these are off if you have abnormal blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol, abnormal sugars, then it’s a good idea to discuss it with your primary doctor first.”

Why should you care, especially at such a young age?

“Well, coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease, in general, is the number one killer in the United States,” said Dr. Swierkosz.

He said Oklahoma has a high rate of deaths from coronary artery disease. He says we’re #4 in the nation for cardiovascular mortality.

“Over 100 patients per 100,000 die annually,” Dr. Swierkosz said. “Die every year because of coronary artery disease.”

But, there are thankfully things that can be done to prevent the blockage. He said the recommendations have changed over the years, as they now recommend exercising every day.

“That can be broken down to 15 minutes twice a day if your work schedule doesn’t allow you to do 30 minutes at least of non-stop exercise every day,” he said.

Dr. Swierkosz said if someone can’t do 15 minutes, then they should start slow and work their way up. He said chest discomfort is usually what brings someone into the emergency room.

“It could be tightness. It could be pressure. It could be something else that you feel in the chest,” he said. “But if you have it regularly, and especially if it’s exertional in nature. So if it happens when you do something, but it doesn’t happen at rest so much, then that requires some action and attention.”

He said shortness of breath among those with diabetes is also a symptom. The symptoms men and women experience, if they have a blockage in their hearts, can be different.

“So yes, man can present shortness of breath, jaw pain, or just some vague feeling in the chest as well,” Dr. Swierkosz said. “But women present with a-typical symptoms more often, and it should be taken seriously.”

He says if a family member experienced pre-mature coronary artery disease, then they should start to get their testing done earlier and be held to a different standard when it comes to their cholesterol and blood pressure levels. So, be proactive, know your levels, and take care of your heart.