Taking it to Heart: Three Takeaways from Heart Month



Between giving those iconic candy treats to your valentine and celebrating the importance of caring for your cardiovascular health, February has a lot of heart.

As the American Heart Association’s annual Heart Month, the second and shortest month of the year is an opportunity to learn more about how our beating, life-giving vascular organ works; how to keep our cardiovascular system in tip-top shape; and how to clarify some common misconceptions.

Here are three insights from Dr. Christopher Haas, Medical Director of Cardiology at UPMC Western Maryland, to keep our hearts healthy and strong all year long!

Everyone has some plaque in their arteries.

The cardiovascular system includes many arteries, which are the blood vessels that supply oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Think of them as pipes, just like you have in your house! Plaque, or fatty deposits from material like cholesterol and parts of old cells, can build up in these pathways.

If too much plaque builds up in an artery, the plaque can cause a condition called coronary artery disease, where narrowing or a harmful blockage of an artery causes symptoms and health concerns and can even lead to a heart attack.

Dr. Haas wants you to know that everyone, starting around the age of 12, has a bit of plaque development and some extent of coronary artery disease.

What is important is understanding what risk factors and behaviors cause greater, faster build-up so you can keep your arteries and vascular system flowing smoothly.

Prevention via healthy habits and heart-friendly choices is the key!

There are some risk factors we can’t control, but there are many that we can.

There are two types of risk factors Dr. Haas wants you to know about.

The first type is non-modifiable. This means you are not able to change them.

Risk for coronary artery disease increases naturally for:

  • Males 45 years of age and older
  • Females 55 years of age and older
  • Family history of heart disease (Risk is higher for those with a sibling who had or has a current condition.)

However, the second type is the modifiable risk factors. These factors are within your power to change and will decrease the negative effect on your heart health.

This includes:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Keeping a healthy blood pressure range
  • Balancing your cholesterol
  • Participating in physical activity and fitness
  • Maintaining a healthy weight, addressing obesity

When it comes to cholesterol, the L stands for lousy.

Cholesterol is an important molecule your body makes to help with essential processes like vitamin creation and cell and other body repair.

There are two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

We make all the cholesterol we need; we don’t need to consume any from our diet. However, sometimes our body makes or gets too much cholesterol.

Of the two types, having too much low-density, LDL, can have negative effects and symptoms for our body. It is the one that causes plaque accumulations and can lead to blockages and coronary artery disease.

Remember that the “L” stands for lousy to recall that this is the type you want to decrease and manage for your heart health.

For more information about heart health and cardiology services, visit The Heart Institute of UPMC Western Maryland. We offer superior cardiology services at our Heart Institute and provide both invasive and non-invasive procedures related to heart health

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