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A cardiologist answers your heart health questions

Last Modified: 2/28/2020

Heart Health

If you attended our Love Your Heart Expo last week, you know that presenter Mark O’Shaughnessy, MD, PPG – Cardiology, spent quite a bit of time addressing questions from the audience. Since he didn’t get to everyone, we asked him to address a handful of inquiries we received after he left the stage. We hope this information is helpful to you in your wellness journey. 

Q: Is a heart gene a dominant or recessive gene?

Dr. O’Shaughnessy: We have not identified a specific gene for coronary artery disease (CAD), so I cannot say if that one is dominant or recessive. The majority of the genes that cause other cardiac diseases are dominant, meaning you only need a single copy of the gene to develop the disease.


Q: I had a bypass surgery when I was 46. I don’t have any of the indicators except family history. How do I overcome this?

Dr. O’Shaughnessy: While a family history of CAD is a risk factor, to date we do not know what the primary issue is that results in the development of CAD. The most important thing for people with a family history of CAD is to modify their other risk factors (manage or avoid diabetes, address high blood pressure, manage cholesterol and avoid tobacco use) and practice the healthy lifestyle we have stressed in all the educational offerings, including a prudent diet, exercise, avoiding tobacco and knowing your numbers.                               


Q: I have had atrial fibrillation (AFib) for 15 years. Why did they start anticoagulants after I turned 65 but not before if everything else is the same?

Dr. O’Shaughnessy: We have to weigh the risk and benefit of any medication. The risk of anticoagulants is bleeding and the benefit, of course, is stroke prevention. We have a tool (CHADS2-Vasc score) that helps us assess the risk versus benefit. The “A” in the CHADS2 score stands for age, and once a person is greater than 65 you get a point. If you have other things in addition to AFib (hypertension, prior stroke, diabetes, you’re female, congestive heart failure or other vascular disease) you add up the points, and if they are greater than two you need to consider anticoagulation.


Q: What is blood sugar and how does it affect my heart?

Dr. O’Shaughnessy: Blood sugar (glucose) is an essential source of energy to support our activity. We ingest sugar (glucose) in our diets and our bodies use this to “power” everything our bodies do on a daily basis. If the blood sugar is normal, this has no adverse effects on the heart or blood vessels. When blood sugar is too high, it can injure the blood vessels throughout the body and, over time, can result in stroke, heart attack, kidney problems, eye problems and other vascular (blood vessel) disease. Knowing your blood sugar and maintaining good control over the level is critically important to maintaining a healthy vascular system.

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