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TRIBUNE PHOTO: SCOTT KEITH - Dr. Jay Shah is a cardiologist with The Portland Clinic, downtown. February is American Heart Month and this season of Valentine’s Day flowers and chocolates is a good time to reflect on our heart health.

Dr. Jay Shah, who is a cardiologist with The Portland Clinic, in Downtown Portland, believes the message of heart health is getting out to the public.

“I definitely think that the marketing from the cardiologist community has been really good at raising awareness of our cardiac health and overall preventive strategies,” Shah said. “I definitely think it’s increasing our collective awareness.”

Heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in this country, can strike men and women.

“It’s never too early to discuss it (heart disease) with your primary care physician,” he said. “Primary care doctors are capable of doing routine screening strategies and testing for cardiovascular disease and its risk factors.”

Heart disease, according to Shah, takes decades to develop. He suggests even young people, in their 20s and 30s, consider their risk factors, especially if they have a family history of heart troubles. Risk factors for heart disease include smoking, weight gain, poor diet, lack of exercise, high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure.

“People who are healthy and without symptoms (especially young people) — often times they ignore these factors, until some problem arises, such as heart attack, congestive heart failure, stroke and even cardiac arrest (when the heart stops),” he added.

While symptoms of heart attack can include chest pain (sometimes a crushing feeling), back or arm discomfort, shortness of breath, nausea, sweating, or vomiting, Shah stresses that symptoms can differ from person to person.

“I think the idea that men and women have different symptoms may be somewhat true,” Shah said. “So I put less emphasis on exactly what type of symptoms and more importance on the pattern of symptoms.”

If you want to reduce the risk of heart disease, Shah has several recommendations. Among them: Avoid or stop smoking, be more active (get routine exercise), maintain a good weight and get routine screening through your primary care doctor.

You may want to visit a fitness specialist to find out how you can help your heart by being active. Melissa Herrera, with Providence Mercantile Health and Fitness Center in Lake Oswego, says she has worked with patients who suffered a heart attack.

“We have a lot of members who have had previous heart attacks,” Herrera said. “That’s part of our job, to help develop a program for them, based on where they’re at and what they had done.”

Herrera noted she’ll see heart patients after they’ve received clearance from their doctors or cardiologists. “We have a lot of people who transition, as well, from cardiac rehabilitation to us,” she said, noting that cardiac rehabilitation (a hospital program) involves heart monitoring equipment.

Providence Mercantile Health and Fitness Center offers both cardiovascular exercises and strength training exercises to get a patient’s heart back in better health.

“The heart is a muscle. It needs to stay strong, just like any other of your muscles,” she said.

HERRERA“They (heart attack patients) need to start some form of physical activity,” Herrera said. “Physical activity can mean a lot of things to different people. But basically, it’s any movement that gets your heart rate up and going (burning calories). They need to strengthen the heart.”

According to Herrera, cardiovascular (aerobic) exercises are helpful. These can range from walking or climbing stairs at home to using elliptical equipment at the neighborhood fitness center.

Part of taking care of your heart is getting regular preventive screenings. Blood pressure, cholesterol, and family history need to be considered.

“There are a lot of problems, like high blood pressure, for example, or diabetes, that don’t really present with symptoms,” Shah said. “Someone can have high blood pressure for many, many years and never know it.”

It’s good to be proactive when it comes to heart health. Shah added, “I do think it’s important to have an annual exam or physical with your primary care doctor - a lot of times we pick up problems just because of those visits.”


  • Eat a healthy diet. Choosing healthful meal and snack options can help you avoid heart disease and its complications. Be sure to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Eating foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in fiber can help prevent high blood cholesterol. Limiting salt or sodium in your diet can also lower your blood pressure.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese can increase your risk for heart disease. To determine whether your weight is in a healthy range, doctors often calculate a number called the body mass index (BMI). Doctors sometimes also use waist and hip measurements to measure a person’s excess body fat.
  • Exercise regularly. Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower cholesterol and blood pressure. The Surgeon General recommends adults engage in moderate-intensity exercise for 2 hours and 30 minutes every week.
  • Don’t smoke. Cigarette smoking greatly increases your risk for heart disease. So, if you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, quitting will lower your risk for heart disease. Your doctor can suggest ways to help you quit.
  • Limit alcohol use. Avoid drinking too much alcohol, which causes high blood pressure.
  • — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (

    Scott Keith is a freelance writer for the Portland Tribune and the Pamplin Media Group. If you have a health tip, or a story idea, contact Scott at scottbkeThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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