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Mansoor Arain, MD, FACC, FSCAI, an Interventional and Structural Cardiologist at Dignity Health’s Stratford Health Center, answers questions about heart health.

Question 1: What is heart disease?

Heart disease is a catch-all term for the various medical problems that can develop involving the heart, resulting in abnormal heart function. These include problems with blood flow to the heart muscle, weakening of the heart, impairment in opening or closing of the valves that regulate blood flow through the heart, and disturbances in the normal electrical activity of the heart/heart rhythm.

● Question 2: What are the risk factors for heart disease?

Risk factors for developing heart disease include advanced age, certain health issues (such as diabetes/high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol), diet high in saturated fat or trans fat, sedentary lifestyle/no or limited exercise, being overweight, smoking/tobacco use, alcohol consumption, and genetics.

● Question 3: What is the link between cholesterol and heart disease?

There is a very strong but complex link between cholesterol and heart disease. Impairment in blood flow to the heart muscle, known as coronary artery disease, develops due to progressive cholesterol buildup within the walls of the heart arteries. This can occur for several different reasons, including high levels of cholesterol in the blood, inflammation, and genetics. 

● Question 4: Will cardio strengthen my heart muscles?

Cardio, or aerobic exercise, is essential for maintaining heart health. It not only provides direct exercise for the heart but also helps to modify many of the risk factors for developing heart disease. 

● Question 5: How are heart diseases diagnosed?

Heart disease can be diagnosed in a number of different ways, including talking to your doctor or other health care provider about symptoms you are experiencing, having your vital signs and labs checked, and undergoing a heart-specific test, such as an electrocardiogram or "EKG", echocardiogram or ultrasound of the heart, stress test, or heart catheterization or "angiogram". 

● Question 6: How does diet affect heart health?

There is an undeniable link between diet and heart health. Diets high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, poultry, and unsaturated fat are ideal. Red meat, processed meats, saturated fat, trans fat, simple carbohydrates such as sugar, added salt, and alcohol should be consumed in moderation. 

● Question 7: What are the warning signs of heart disease?

Warning signs of heart disease include chest discomfort (pain, pressure, heaviness, squeezing, burning, etc.), breathlessness, excessive sweating, fluid retention in your feet and ankles, palpitations, dizziness/lightheadedness, fainting, and severe fatigue. 

● Question 8: How does stress impact heart health?

Stress has a detrimental impact on heart health due to its effect on adrenaline levels, blood sugar, inflammation, lifestyle choices, and sleep, among other things. Finding healthy ways to manage stress is therefore very important.

For more information about the Stratford Health Center, visit

Mansoor Arain, MD, FACC, FSCAI