Ask the Expert: How Can I Decrease My Risk of Heart Disease?

Are you or someone that you love fearful of having open-heart surgery? You are not alone. But, keeping a positive attitude is a big factor in recovery.

“As a cardiac surgeon, I often encounter patients who are apprehensive of having open-heart surgery. This is completely normal and understandable,” says Zewditu Asfaw, M.D., a cardiothoracic surgeon affiliated with Ascension Providence and Ascension Macomb-Oakland Hospitals.

A coronary artery bypass grafting, also known as a CABG, is the surgical procedure performed for coronary artery disease, or CAD. Veins from the leg and arteries from the chest wall or wrist create a “detour” around the blockages in your coronary arteries, she explains. This surgery often involves an incision in the chest.

“Performing this surgery traditionally requires a sternotomy (cutting open the breastbone) although certain patients may be candidates for less invasive procedures,” Dr. Asfaw says. Not all patients require surgery and some can be managed with medicine or by “stenting” of the coronaries.

A stent is a small mesh tube placed in the artery to help restore blood flow. Anyone undergoing heart procedures does well to keep a positive outlook.


“I do think that attitude plays a very important role in a patient’s recovery,” Dr. Asfaw says. “Those with positive attitudes tend to recover more quickly and do better overall.”

Dr. Asfaw advises patients to ask questions and make sure they are comfortable with both the surgeon and the proposed procedure.

How can you decrease your chances of having CAD and open-heart surgery?

Managing risk factors for CAD is a good start.

The American Heart Association (AHA) says that African-Americans are disproportionately affected by some CAD risk factors such as high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. In fact, according to the AHA, the prevalence of high blood pressure for African-Americans is among the highest in the world. Family history and health habits play a big role in determining your risk of heart disease.

Speaking to your doctor is vital to maintaining your heart health.

“If a family member has coronary disease or has died from a heart attack you should let your physician know so that they can screen for it appropriately,” Dr. Asfaw suggests. Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly are vital to decreasing your chance of having a heart attack.

If you’re experiencing chest pain, left arm or jaw pain, this could be a sign of heart disease. However, in some cases, there are no signs of CAD, Dr. Asfaw says, until a patient has a heart attack. Other symptoms can include nausea, “heartburn” and/or lightheadedness.

“Some people have a feeling of anxiety or nervousness,” she adds. “Diabetics and women should particularly pay attention to the less common symptoms as they tend not to have the ‘elephant sitting on my chest’ presentation.” You know your body better than anyone, Dr. Asfaw notes, so “if you are concerned that something is wrong with your heart, it is always best to seek medical attention as soon as possible.”

Get more health information and find a doctor near you by visiting or calling 866-501-DOCS (3627).

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