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July 06, 2012

New program seeks to prevent heart disease

Loyola's new heart disease prevention program inspired Andrea Burbank to adopt and promote healthy habits in her family.
Loyola's new heart disease prevention program inspired Andrea Burbank to adopt and promote healthy habits in her family.

Ted Roberts, 59, had managed his cholesterol and high blood pressure issues for many years. But when his medication was causing severe leg muscle cramps, Ted’s cardiologist suggested he see Binh An P. Phan, MD, assistant professor, medicine, cardiology, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. Dr. Phan leads the Preventive Cardiology Program at Loyola University Medical Center, U.S. News & World Report® Top 20 heart hospital.

“The goal of our program is to prevent any cardiovascular events in a patient’s life. We treat risk factors early on to reduce a patient’s risk of having a devastating stroke or a heart attack. Ted had trouble tolerating his medication dosage,” Dr. Phan said. “We developed a safe and customized plan for how and when he would take his cholesterollowering drugs. We also encouraged him to adopt a low-fat diet and a heart-healthy exercise program.”

“Dr. Phan offered his guidance gently,” Ted recalled. “We had a long conversation about exercise and how some foods interact with my diabetes. He adjusted my medications and changed my whole lifestyle. My leg cramps are gone, so now I’m on the treadmill for 45 minutes, five to seven days a week.”

Loyola’s preventive cardiology team identifies and aggressively treats risk factors for heart disease. 

“We conduct specialized blood tests and learn about each individual’s medical condition. We ask about family history because heart disease in a male parent or sibling by age 55, or by 65 in a mother or sister, is an important risk factor,” Dr. Phan said.

Some patients require advanced, non-invasive imaging to look for diseased arteries. They undergo a calcium scoring test and ultrasound imaging of the walls of the carotid artery (the main artery that provides blood to the brain).

“These tests are not for everybody,” explained Dr. Phan. “We use research data and clinical guidelines to determine the best evaluation approach, and to develop a tailored treatment plan based on the individual’s risk factors.”

The heart disease prevention team shares its recommendations not only with each patient but also their primary care physicians to ensure that the guidelines are incorporated into an overall treatment plan.

Sometimes a single conversation can change a life. “I knew I had very high cholesterol and a family history of heart disease,” said Andrea Burbank, a 31-year-old mother of two very young children. “After speaking with Dr. Phan, I realized that diet and exercise alone would never be sufficient to lower my cholesterol enough. He adjusted my medication and motivated me to make healthy choices. His bedside manner was fabulous.” 

Andrea’s 45-minute conversation with Dr. Phan and his follow-up calls led to a dramatic drop in Andrea’s cholesterol levels and a significant decrease in her risk of developing heart disease.

Specialists at the Preventive Cardiology Program at Loyola believe in getting the entire family involved in the quest for lifelong health. “High cholesterol can be inherited, so kids should be screened with a simple blood test if there is a family history,” Dr. Phan said.

“If a child has high cholesterol, our first-line recommendation is exercise and proper nutrition. But some people could run to the moon and swim Lake Michigan and still have high cholesterol. Eventually they will need cholesterol-lowering drugs.”

Andrea and her husband Dave proactively are encouraging their two- and four-year-olds to eat well and be physically active.

“My siblings say I inspired them to exercise more, and Dave says I inspired him to quit smoking and lose weight,” Andrea said. “But it all started with Dr. Phan. He first inspired me to quit smoking and lose weight. I’ve lost 40 pounds and want to lose more. I used to get winded just being with my kids at park. Now, I’m looking forward to actually running around with them and to riding bikes with them and Dave.”


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