Give the gift of heart health this Valentine’s Day

There are plenty of ways to show your significant other you care this Valentine’s Day, but a local cardiologist recommends you show your love by helping those around you in the fight against heart disease.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But Dr. Joshua Buckler, a cardiologist at Pacific Medical Centers, says patients who have help from a loved one have an advantage when it comes to improving their heart health.

"The people that are lucky enough to have an involved partner, who they allow to be involved, do much, much better overall," Buckler says.

To help someone facing heart disease, Buckler recommends supporters first educate themselves on heart health. They ought to learn how the heart works and do their research, he advises. Loved ones should find out what medications the patient is taking and help them manage these.

"Be their sidekick, their go-to person," Buckler says. "I'm always amazed at how little people understand about their heart and their medications."

Buckler says patients who have a spouse or family member who can attend doctor appointments with them are especially fortunate.

"Battling symptoms while trying to understand what's going on is a lot to handle," Buckler says. "A second set of ears can help you gather the information you need."

People who live with the patient can also provide doctors with more information than the physician would typically learn in a quick exam, Buckler says. 

"It's amazing the different perspective the spouse has," Buckler says.

The second step in helping someone you love improve their heart health is encouraging them to adjust their lifestyle. This typically means improving their diet and exercising more, Buckler says. He recommends loved ones help patients read nutrition labels or invite them out for walks.

"When you're feeling lousy, it's hard to get motivated,” Buckler says. “But, having someone there with you is encouraging.”

Buckler's advice isn't just for spouses. He urges children with parents who are at-risk for heart disease to get involved in their care, whether that means stopping by to cook dinner or just chatting over the phone about the patient's symptoms.

Buckler has noticed that patients who don't have support from family or friends typically don't take care of themselves as well.

"Patients who try to manage heart failure on their own can ignore things that get so bad that they end up in the hospital," Buckler says.

Helping someone you love can also help you better understand your risk of heart disease, Buckler says. He advises that anyone with a blood-relative with heart disease should talk to their doctor about their own risk.

Learn more about heart disease from the American Heart Association.