Welcome to the second installment of Prisma Health On Call, a new Q+A series that connects you, our readers, to the pros at Prisma Health.
This month, Prisma Health’s heart and vascular specialists are here to answer all your questions related to high blood pressure, chest pains, heart disease in the family, heart-healthy meals, and more.
You asked, and the pros answered. (Big thanks to Will T. Halligan, MD, and Jennifer M. Lee, NP, for their knowledge + expertise.)
Q: Is a plant-based diet more healthy for the heart? And if so, why haven’t any of my cardiologists recommended this?
A: Yes, a plant-based diet is considered a heart healthy diet. However, it is usually difficult for many patients to adhere to a plant-based diet. The Mediterranean diet is also a heart healthy diet that can be much easier for people to follow.
Q: Are ubiquinol and magnesium good supplements to take for heart health?
A: Ubiquinol is sometimes used by patients as a supplement to help with myalgias (muscle aches) caused by statin cholesterol medications. There are no scientific studies that I am aware of which prove ubiquinol improves statin-induced myalgias. However, I do not believe that this supplement poses any significant risk. If patients feel that it helps with their symptoms, I recommend they continue.
While we do prescribe magnesium for certain situations, I would not recommend taking magnesium supplements routinely as there is no evidence that this medication is helpful for routine cardiovascular health.
Q: Are the popularly advertised heart smart fitness watches helpful for cardiac patients to wear? Is there an inexpensive watch that monitors AFib?
A: The Apple Watch with EKG capability is useful to help identify patients with atrial fibrillation and other arrhythmias. Another commonly used device is the KardiaMobile device, which is significantly less expensive than the Apple Watch. These devices are not perfect but can aid with diagnosis and management.
Q: My GDM said a keto diet is bad, but what is worse on my heart health: Keto or being 30 lbs overweight?
A: Lifestyle modification that includes a heart healthy diet, routine cardiovascular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are all important for good cardiovascular health. In patients that are overweight, I often recommend any diet that can help them lose weight but also maintain the weight loss. There is no scientific evidence that the keto diet is a heart healthy diet.
Q: I had an instant reaction to my first COVID-19 vaccination. Within 60 seconds I experienced rapid heart pounding and I almost passed out. What is your opinion on the second shot for me?
A: Overall, the risk of significant cardiovascular side effects from the COVID-19 vaccination is extremely rare. The reaction you describe is not typical of a cardiovascular reaction to the vaccination. However, I would recommend you discuss it with your primary care doctor to help with your decision regarding future vaccination.
Q: How can long haul COVID patients help themselves recover heart and lung health when their autoimmune systems continue attacking their own organs months after recovery?
A: Patients with long-haul COVID (long COVID, post-COVID syndrome, etc.) usually improve over time; however, this can take weeks to months. This syndrome is poorly understood, and we do not have any effective treatments for this condition at this time. I would recommend anyone with significant symptoms following COVID-19 infection discuss them with their primary care doctor.
Q: Can congestive heart failure cause severe foot pain at night?
A: Swelling in the legs can be related to congestive heart failure and can cause some discomfort, but foot pain itself is not a typical symptom of congestive heart failure.
Q: I have heart disease on both sides of my family. Although I do not have any risk factors (high cholesterol, overweight, diabetes) is there a test I should get that can help monitor my heart health?
A: Testing for monitoring of heart health is very patient-specific. There is a test that can evaluate calcium in the heart arteries, which is a marker of coronary artery disease. In certain situations, this can be a helpful test to further assess your cardiovascular risk. You can discuss this with your primary care doctor to see if this may be an appropriate test for you.
Q: A few times, while sitting in my chair, I have felt a needle and pin sensation in my hands. Because I have muscular dystrophy, it is difficult to know if this is a cardiac or neurological based tingle. Does this situation warrant a visit to a specialist?
A: The symptoms are not typical cardiac symptoms. However, I would recommend that you discuss with your primary care doctor for further evaluation.*