Coronary heart disease remains the No. 1 killer of Americans, but cardiology pioneer Dr. William Frishman predicts that one day few, if any, people will die from heart attack.
“I foresee that in the near future, heart attack will disappear as a cause of death in the U.S., thanks to the use of statin drugs and more powerful cholesterol-lowering drugs that are becoming available,” Frishman tells Newsmax Health.
When Frishman began practicing cardiology more than 45 years ago, little could be done to save heart attack patients.
“We could just give them oxygen and hope they pulled through,” recalls Frishman, who chairs the department of medicine at New York Medical College in Valhalla, N.Y., and is also director of Westchester Medical Center there.
Since then, the coronary heart disease death rate has plummeted more than 61 percent, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
“Fewer patients now have heart attacks, and those that do, have them later in life and usually survive,” says Frishman.
“Patients with heart failure, who used to die within months of diagnosis, can live for 25-30 years on current medical treatment. We are reaching the point now that humans will soon be living to their natural lifespans.”
When Frishman was 15, his father died of a heart attack at the age of 46.
“When my father had his heart attack, everything was very primitive,” he says. “There was nothing really that you could do for heart attack patients except give them oxygen and hope they pulled through.”
Back then, there were no treatments for heart attack prevention either, says Frishman, and even the knowledge of risk factors was in its infancy.
“We had nothing for blood pressure, and virtually no treatments to lower cholesterol,” says Frishman, who was involved with the landmark Framingham Heart Study, which provided what today are the commonly known coronary heart disease risk factors.
Early in his career, one of the first revolutionary drugs that Frishman was involved in testing was propranolol (Inderal), a beta blocker that is used in the treatment of high blood pressure, angina (chest pain caused by coronary heart disease), irregular heartbeats, and other cardiac problems.
Propranolol, which is listed on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines for its safety and effectiveness, was one of the innovative drugs that helped usher in the era of modern cardiology.
Since then, Frishman has authored 14 medical textbooks, as well as 1,000 academic research papers.
Through his work, he’s also met four former U.S. presidents: Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton.
Frishman met Bush when he co-chaired a medical meeting with Eugene Cernan, (the Apollo 17 astronaut who was the last man to walk on the moon), which brought together members of the U.S. and Soviet space programs.
He attended meetings with Reagan and Ford, and he met Clinton when the former president was having tests at Westchester Medical Center prior to undergoing coronary bypass surgery.
Now, at the age of 70, Frishman divides his time between his administrative duties and patient care, which he vowed never to give up, in order to fulfill a pledge he made to himself after his father died.
“One of my greatest joys comes from running down to the hospital emergency room, to reassure a frightened young wife and her children that their dad will make it after his heart attack,” he says.
Here are Frishman’s top 10 tips on protecting yourself against heart disease:
- If you smoke, quit. “Smoking is the No. 1 culprit in causing heart disease, and the day you stop, your risk goes down,” he says. If you don’t smoke, make sure you avoid secondhand smoke, as well.
- Get your blood pressure checked, and, if it’s high, get it under control. Today’s medications are excellent.
- Get your cholesterol tested. Statin drugs are not only effective, but they are also offered in generic forms today, so they are not expensive. These are really what have brought about the reduction in heart disease. Most cardiologists Frishman knows take statins, whether their cholesterol is high or not. To prevent muscle aches, he suggests taking them every other day.
- Get tested for diabetes and, if you have it, make sure it’s under control.
- Practice moderation in your diet. “I’m not impressed with the quality of research when it comes to diets – the results are all over the place,” says Frishman, who favors moderation when it comes to deciding what foods to eat.
- Be active.Although Frishman doesn’t have a favorite form of exercise – he walks two miles a day around his hospital’s medical campus – exercise is a marker for a healthy lifestyle, he notes.
- Learn the early warning signs of heart attack and, if you are experiencing symptoms, get help immediately. Heart attack symptoms include pressure, tightness or pain in the chest; shortness of breath; nausea; cold sweat; and fatigue.
- Ask your doctor about low-dose aspirin therapy. Aspirin is anti-inflammatory, and prevents other diseases (such as some forms of cancer) as well as heart attack.
- Learn to manage stress. “There is a clear connection between stress and not only heart disease, but other diseases as well, so I refer my patients to stress reduction programs, and to learn techniques like meditation,” he says.
- Follow your passion. “Keep your mind active, and pursue a hobby, which makes for a more interesting and well-rounded life,” he says.
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