Vail Valley health: Active lifestyle doesn’t remove risk of heart disease |

Vail Valley health: Active lifestyle doesn’t remove risk of heart disease

Dr. John Slack
Special to the Daily
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – If we received an inch of snow in Vail for every time I heard, “I don’t need to worry about heart disease, I’m active,” we could ski all year. The truth is that an active lifestyle doesn’t make you exempt from heart disease. There are numerous other variables that weigh far more heavily than that: a family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, high levels of LDL cholesterol and high stress, to name a few.

It is important for all individuals, even active ones, not to ignore chest pains. Especially important are the following, often referred to as the “big four.” If you experience one or more of these factors, seek medical assistance promptly.

The first is chest discomfort with an exertion component. For example, if every time you walk the dog up the mountain, go for a jog or ride your bike you experience shortness of breath and pain anywhere between your jaw and upper abdomen, you may be suffering from a heart condition, even if you are physically fit.

If you experience chest trauma, such as hitting a tree while skiing or mountain biking or are involved in an auto accident where your chest receives a blow, seek medical advice. Too often people pass off what is a torn aorta as a “bruised rib.” The pain from a torn aorta is often described as a severe sharp pain in the chest and, if untreated, can lead to internal bleeding and, in some cases, death.

Travelers may experience a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot that often starts in the leg and moves to the lungs. This condition is serious and can be fatal. Typically, this condition presents itself with shortness of breath and pain when taking a deep breath.

The last of the “big four” is pericarditis. Pericarditis is often due to a virus in the chest. Symptoms include chest pain worsened by lying down, mild fever, fatigue and an irregular heartbeat. If left untreated, pericarditis can cause severe heart arrhythmias and sudden heart failure.

Our valley is full of people who moved here for the active lifestyle and recreational aspects that the mountains afford us. Often we think that we are in better shape than we are or that we are so fit that we don’t need to worry about heart conditions. The facts, however, don’t lie. Don’t ignore the risk factors and symptoms. In addition, if you are beginning a new physical fitness regimen consult your physician to be sure you aren’t putting yourself at risk.

Dr. John Slack is a board certified cardiologist who practices at Avanti Cardiology, a Vail Valley Medical Center practice. Dr. Slack can be reached at 970-476-1110 for consultation.

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