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A Healthy Heart Begins with Prevention

Heart disease continues to be the number one killer of both men and women in the U.S., causing more than 600,000 deaths every year. Early detection and prevention is key and the importance of knowing one’s risk factors begins with making – and keeping -- a yearly checkup appointment with a primary care provider.

“A regular annual physical exam allows us to find and prevent diseases before they occur,” says Morgan Miller, MD, family medicine physician at Merit Health Medical Group in Byram. “The results can key us into problems that may be arising and allow us to work with patients on correcting issues before they become a bigger problem, such as reversing high blood pressure before it leads to congestive heart failure.”

A vital part of the conversation centers around the importance of knowing the patient’s cardiovascular and stroke risk factors and numbers, including cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, weight, activity level and family history. Symptoms such as fatigue and headaches should also be communicated.

Fear has led many people to delay regular checkups and screenings, which would normally be a priority. “The COVID pandemic has definitely had an impact on my patients’ overall health, more so because of the emotional and psychological toll that it has taken,” adds Dr. Miller. “Many of my patients are working toward catching up with their preventive exams.”

In terms of heart and cardiovascular disease, other health issues like diabetes, high blood pressure, lack of exercise, obesity, genetics, depression, smoking and kidney disease play a role in worsening heart function. Conversely, consistently practicing good habits, including regular exercise and eating healthy foods also decreases the risk of cancer, dementia and cardiovascular disease while improving digestion, mood and mental function.

“We as a society need to maintain a good, consistent exercise regimen,” adds Qasim Cheema, MD, interventional cardiologist at Merit Health Medical Group in Jackson. “Exercise is highly underestimated. It improves blood flow through the body and thereby the function of all our other organs. Exercise is free medicine.”

Knowing the numbers that indicate the prevalence of heart disease is essential to developing a successful prevention and/or treatment plan. “We know low blood pressure readings are beneficial over time and indicate a decreased risk for a cardiovascular event,” explains Dr. Cheema. “I inform my patients being treated for hypertension to strive for an average blood pressure of 130/80 or lower. And remember, a couple of the most important behaviors that negatively impact the heart are smoking along with excessive alcohol use.”

Talk with your physician about your risk factors and develop a prevention plan. If you need a primary care provider or cardiologist, call 844-MSMERIT or visit


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