Welcome to the second installment of Prisma Health On Call, a new Q+A series that connects you, our readers, to the pros at Prisma Health.
This month, Prisma Health’s heart and vascular specialists are here to answer all your questions related to high blood pressure, chest pains, heart disease in the family, heart-healthy meals, and more.
You asked, and the pros answered. (Big thanks to Lauren S. Holliday, MD; Rodney V. Harrison, MD; Verne M. Prosser, MD; J. Ryan Altman, MD; and Vince M. Vismara, MD, for their knowledge + expertise.)
Q: Is a plant-based diet more healthy for the heart? And if so, why haven’t any of my cardiologists recommended this?
A: Plant-based diets certainly reduce the risk of heart disease as well as some forms of cancer. A Mediterranean diet or DASH diet is likely more reasonable, and both have been shown to reduce heart disease in multiple studies.
Q: Are ubiquinol and magnesium good supplements to take for heart health?
A: It is not recommended to take herbal or over-the-counter supplements without first consulting your healthcare provider, as they may have interactions with your current prescriptions that you may be unaware of. Consultation with your healthcare provider is highly recommended prior to starting any supplement regimen.
Q: Are the popularly advertised heart smart fitness watches helpful for cardiac patients to wear? Is there an inexpensive watch that monitors AFib?
A: Most smart watches only detect heart rate regularity and are not gathering an actual echocardiogram for interpretation. In terms of an inexpensive monitor for atrial fibrillation, one of the most effective ways to monitor at home is to manually feel your pulse and check for regular resting phases in between each heartbeat, as well as a heart rate within the normal range.
Q: My GDM said a keto diet is bad, but what is worse on my heart health: Keto or being 30 lbs overweight? What can I do?
A: The keto diet is fine to lose weight and segue to a Mediterranean diet or DASH diet. Niacin is beneficial for reducing cholesterol by potentially 20-30%. Some of the newer drugs for helping cholesterol such as PCSK9 inhibitors also can reduce it by up to 25%; however, to get these medications, you need to have familial hypercholesterolemia (read: a genetic disorder). It is always strongly encouraged to discuss any diet or supplementary considerations with your healthcare provider before starting.
Q: I had an instant reaction to my first COVID-19 vaccination. Within 60 seconds I experienced rapid heart pounding and I almost passed out. What is your opinion on the second shot for me?
A: This was likely not related to the vaccine itself, and more the body reacting to the “trauma” of getting a shot and the acute pain. If this continues to occur, consider a consultation with a cardiologist to evaluate the heart rhythm with an event monitor. It remains highly recommended to receive the second dose and maximize protection against COVID-19.
Q: How can long haul COVID patients help themselves recover heart and lung health when their autoimmune systems continue attacking their own organs months after recovery?
A: Since SARS-COV-2 is such a new virus and presence compared to other viruses and diseases, this is something we are still learning about every day as we study the long-term effects of COVID-19 more and more. Hopefully there will be more information related to this soon.
Q: Can congestive heart failure cause severe foot pain at night?
A: While this is not a direct symptom of congestive heart failure, patients with congestive heart failure may experience this as it may be related to lower extremity swelling and reduced/poor circulation to the lower extremities.
Q: I have heart disease on both sides of my family. Although I do not have any risk factors (high cholesterol, overweight, diabetes) is there a test I should get that can help monitor my heart health?
A: It is imperative to get routine medical check-ups and monitor for conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. There’s not an established test that definitively monitors total heart health. A calcium scoring offers a good indication of risk for a cardiovascular event when considering coronary artery disease.
Q: A few times, while sitting in my chair, I have felt a needle and pin sensation in my hands. Because I have muscular dystrophy, it is difficult to know if this is a cardiac or neurological based tingle. Does this situation warrant a visit to a specialist?
A: With no other symptoms associated, the most appropriate specialist seems to be a neurologist to evaluate the muscular dystrophy. If any cardiac related symptoms develop (chest pain, shortness of breath, syncope), then a cardiology consultation would be warranted.*