Are Food and Fitness Enough to Fight Coronary Artery Disease?

Jill Shook was 32, a longtime runner who trained regularly and ate healthy when a year ago she was diagnosed with an unexpected diagnosis: coronary artery disease (CAD).

The shock started with her annual check-up, where her doctor found her cholesterol to be very high. Shook, a speech therapist and business consultant in Pittsburgh, couldn’t figure out what caused the spike.

She competed in a half marathon and other races, did high intensity workouts, and cooked almost all of her meals. Her cholesterol had been stable and in a healthy range for years. Shaken, she went home and did some research.

Shook had previous heart disease resulting from his battle as a toddler with Kawasaki disease, which inflames blood vessels throughout the body. It took 10 days to correctly diagnose Shook’s disease. By the time she received the treatment, she had developed four protruding aneurysms in her heart.

Throughout his childhood, Shook took aspirin and vitamin E and lived in fear that his aneurysms would rupture.

“If one of them had burst, unless I had been on an operating table, I could have died,” she says.

But at 17, Shook’s doctors said the aneurysms were gone and gave him a good checkup.

“I thought I was done with this and the danger was over,” said Shook.

While investigating the sudden spike in his cholesterol levels, Shook discovered that some people with Kawasaki disease as a child suffer from coronary artery disease in adulthood.

“It was a huge shock,” said Shook.

Shook has revamped his diet to make it even healthier for the heart. She reduced her consumption of red meat and prepared more meatless dishes for her family. However, these changes weren’t enough to lower his cholesterol levels.

The only thing that has helped with this “is the statin,” she says. “Now I’m on a statin for the rest of my life. “

Sometimes it frustrates Shook that she can’t manage her DAC just with exercise and healthy habits. At the same time, she is grateful for having the option of treatment with medication.

Taking statins, says Shook, “doesn’t change my lifestyle, except I add another pill to my vitamin routine.”

Drugs and CAD

Many people with coronary artery disease, like Shook, need to take medications in addition to maintaining a healthy lifestyle to help manage their blood pressure and cholesterol, or prevent the progression of their heart disease. Medication needs can change over the years and some people need more than one medication.

Because each person’s body, lifestyle, and risk factors are different, your doctors will customize medications to suit each person’s needs.

Life after cardiac arrest

Kristi Wells, 73, is a retired Washington state para-educator who has been living with coronary artery disease since 2015. Doctors found a small blockage in her heart but told her she was fine. Wells, who has always been active, moved on with her life. A few weeks later, she went into cardiac arrest and ended up with two stents in her heart.

“I had a stomach ache, but I thought it was from the chili I had eaten,” Wells says. “I remember walking into the bathroom and feeling like someone was pushing a spoon on the roof of my mouth.”

Instead of calling 911, Wells went to a nearby hospital. Wells was very lucky and managed to arrive safely without putting himself in danger or endangering others on the road. Once at the hospital, she felt severe pain in her arm and quickly passed out. Women are less likely than men to have chest pain during a heart attack. When Wells left the hospital for cardiac rehabilitation, he was given a bag full of pills.

“I made an agreement with my cardiologist. I said, ‘If I put my numbers back where they should be, can we stop some of the pills?’ “, she says. “He said yes.”

With the encouragement and support of her daughter and her cardiologist, Wells made changes.

First Wells slowly shifted their diet to more whole foods. She and her daughter switched from cow’s milk to oatmeal or almond milk. They cooked less red meat and tried different vegetarian and vegan recipes. Wells also began to exercise, meditate, and do yoga.

During her 6-month check-up, Wells’ cholesterol had gone down and her cardiologist took one medication off her and the rest reduced her dose.

But in 2017, Wells started seeing spots in his right eye. Her doctor discovered a vein that was creeping into her retina, a problem usually caused by diabetes or high blood pressure. Wells recently started taking a diuretic to help manage symptoms.

“I understand a lot of people don’t want to take pills, but if you need them, you need them,” Wells says.

“There is life after cardiac arrest, after coronary artery disease,” she says. “You put one foot in front of the other, and if you miss a step, that’s okay. Just keep doing it. “

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