Interventional cardiologist at Austin Heart Leander shares top tips for a healthy heart

With 14 full-time office locations and 14 outreach clinics, Austin Heart is the largest provider of cardiac and vascular services in Central Texas. While not everyone requires regular cardiologist visits, it is important to know what symptoms should prompt a screening—and how to maintain a healthy heart and avoid disease.

Since moving to Austin about 10 years ago, interventional cardiologist Dr. Christopher McCoy has worked at several medical organizations across the city—which is why he feels comfortable calling Austin Heart the most efficient and well-run cardiology clinic in the area.

“As far as physicians working together as a team, we do the best job here,” Dr. McCoy said. “There’s different specialists that all work together and if there’s different needs that come up, we’re pretty good about communicating and getting people to the doctor that has the most expertise in that field.”

When it comes to deciding the right time to book a cardiology appointment, Dr. McCoy said any new symptoms are a cue to get a checkup, and Coronary Calcium scores are a commonly recommended test for people over the age of 40.

“Anything new, especially with regards to chest pain, shortness of breath, lightheadedness or dizziness, rapid heart rate or passing out, those are the most concerning,” Dr. McCoy said.

Patients with a family history of poor heart health or heart diseases are also encouraged to get regular checkups and screenings, as genetics are one of the variables that play a role in heart health.

“It depends on risk factors; certainly new symptoms should prompt visits,” Dr. McCoy said. “If people are 40 or over and they have risk factors, especially concerning family history or a number of comorbidities, it’s certainly not unreasonable to get evaluated by a cardiologist because there’s tests that we may recommend for them.”

When a new patient comes in for a screening and checkup at Austin Heart, cardiologists ask questions about medical history and listen to any active complaints. Next, they will check blood pressure and normally start with an EKG to see if additional tests are needed.

“We’ll talk about signs and symptoms that should be concerning for heart disease, what to recognize if something were to come up, and what they should do if they have certain symptoms,” Dr. McCoy said.

According to Dr. McCoy, one way to avoid heart disease is by taking care of your body through exercise. The American Heart Association recommends getting 30 minutes of exercise five days a week, but for those who are not used to exercising daily, Dr. McCoy said getting evaluated by a physician first is an important step.

“If you have an underlying condition, and you start to exercise, that could trigger some kind of event … Start in moderation first and gradually build yourself up,” Dr. McCoy said. “Any activity is better than no activity, and a combination of different things is probably the most beneficial.”

In regard to diet, Dr. McCoy said there is not necessarily an absolute recommendation for one diet over the other. However, poor nutrition stresses the heart and increases the risk of developing atherosclerosis, which is a buildup of fats, cholesterol and other substances in and around the artery walls.

“Sometimes eat what you want, but the majority of the time you [should] try to eat things that you know are healthy,” Dr. McCoy said. “That’s usually fresh fruit, baked chicken or fish versus fried food, and less processed food and less sugar.”

Stress management is also a vital part of heart health. Managing stress can be difficult, but Dr. McCoy said getting a better night’s sleep and exercising regularly are some of the best ways to mitigate stress.

“You can deal with stress a lot better if you can get a good night’s sleep,” Dr. McCoy said. “And if you exercise, I think exercise in a healthy fashion reduces stress and you’re accomplishing two goals.”

While exercise, nutrition and stress-management are all important factors in heart health on their own, Dr. McCoy said the combination of all three and a balanced lifestyle is the blueprint to overall heart health.

“Lifestyle plays a huge role in how long you’re going to live and in the probability of you having heart disease. It’s just the bottom line,” Dr. McCoy said. “There’s medicine, there’s tests, there’s other things—but certainly, lifestyle is the key to all of it.”

Interested in learning more about Austin Heart? View its locations, read about its physicians and the conditions they treat at www.austinheart.com.

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