By Dr. Anthony Policastro

Heart disease continues to be the biggest cause of death in the U.S. Since it is so common, there are often misconceptions about it.

For example, there is the perception that heart disease is only an issue in people over age 65. My father died of his heart attack at age 61.

In actuality 5-10 percent of heart attacks occur in individuals under age 45. Often those individuals are obese. Sometimes they are smokers. Some of them have diabetes.

Some women will say that heart disease only affects men.

Actually in 2017, 24.2 percent of men died of heart disease. The figure for women was very close at 21.8 percent.

If heart attacks plus strokes are combined, 28.7 percent of men die and 28 percent of women. It is clearly not sex related.

Another perception is that once you have a heart attack you should avoid exercise. That is not true.

An exercise program under the supervision of medical personnel will strengthen the heart. It will make a later heart attack less likely.

Some people feel that they do not need to watch their diet if they are on cholesterol lowering medication. If their blood cholesterol remains low on the medication, the diet that they are on is probably a good one for them.

However, if their cholesterol remains high on medication, diet is very often the culprit.

A misconception is that if heart disease runs in the family, there is nothing you can do to prevent it.

While you may not prevent it, you can certainly postpone it. I am now 13 years older than my dad was when he had his heart attack.

I also had all four grandparents, both parents and 6 of my 8 uncles and aunts die of heart disease or stroke.

My dad had high cholesterol which they did not treat in those days. His blood pressure medication was used when his blood pressure was high.

They then stopped it when it came down. They restarted it when it went up again. He did not exercise. He smoked pipes and cigars.

I am on cholesterol medication. I take blood pressure medications regularly. I do four miles a day on my treadmill. Actually, I have burned up seven treadmills since I started using them in 1989. I have never smoked. So far it appears to have helped delay whatever effects there are.

Some people are convinced that if they take vitamins they will be able to avoid heart disease. Vitamins supplementation can be beneficial to the heart. However, it needs to be part of a program. It cannot be the only treatment used.

Like any other disorder, the more you know, the better you can protect yourself.

Heart disease is likely to continue to be the biggest cause of death in the U.S. However, we each should take steps to make sure we are not putting ourselves at higher risk because of our beliefs.

COVID-19 Update

Total number of new cases continues to decrease. Nationally the weekly total has dropped from 296,000 to 213,000. In Sussex County the weekly totals have dropped from 230 to 172. The vaccines are clearly having a beneficial effect.

Nationally 47 percent of the population has had the first dose with 37 percent fully immunized. In Delaware 51 percent of the population has had the first dose and 39 percent are fully immunized.

Again these figures are for total population with children included. Figures for high risk groups are significantly higher.

The CDC issued new guidance for fully immunized vs. non-immunized individuals. It is based upon the scientific evidence to this point. The CDC chart is shown above. 

The chart shows that fully immunized individuals can resume normal activities. It also provides a list of activities that non-immunized individuals should be cautious about or avoid altogether.

The problem with the guidance is that it depends on each individual following the recommendations.

We already know that some individuals object to that. The multiple instances of mask-wearing refusal speaks to that.

Therefore, unless non-immunized individuals follow the recommendations, the recommendations will have less value.

One piece of this is extremely ironic. The idea behind vaccinating large numbers of individuals is to create herd immunity.

That concept implies that there will be so few individuals who could be infected that the virus has no one to infect.

Enough people need to get the vaccine for herd immunity to occur.

That creates a strange situation. The people who usually get infected are non-immunized individuals. That means that the people then getting infected in the future will be those who have not been vaccinated. They are essentially setting themselves up to be the group getting infected.

We are already seeing some of that. Children currently represent the largest group of unvaccinated individuals. They now account for about one-quarter of all new infections.