Experts from Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital are ready to answer readers’ questions. Send your questions to askthedoc@rwjbh.org.

Dr. Shankar Santhanam

Heart disease remains the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States. Dr. Shankar Santhanam—a Robert Wood Johnson Physician Enterprise provider affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton, an RWJBarnabas Health facility—offers some insight what you can do to improve your heart health.

When should I start worrying about my heart health?

It’s important to start taking care of your heart health at a young age to reduce the risk of developing it later in life. Heart disease is something young people generally don’t think about, but don’t wait to think about your heart health until there is a problem.

What are some ways to improve my heart health?

First and foremost, not smoking. Smoking dramatically increases your risk of developing heart disease. Even secondhand smoke puts you at greater risk. Next, try to increase your physical activity level. Also, according to the American Heart Association, you should be getting 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of high intensity activity per week. You should also make sure to watch how much alcohol you drink. Drinking too much can severely raise your blood pressure. And finally, try to stay at a healthy weight and maintain a healthy, nutritious diet.

Are there any warning signs to look out for?

Oftentimes, people tend to ignore signs that your heart is in trouble. Not all heart problems come with the traditional or stereotypical warning signs. Some warning signs that you should not ignore are: chest pain or discomfort, including pressure, squeezing, or pain in the upper chest, back, or lower abdomen – commonly mistaken for indigestion or heartburn; shortness of breath with activity or difficulty completing regular activities; and swelling in the feet, ankles, legs or abdomen. If you experience any of the symptoms described above, notify your doctor immediately.

At what age should I start going to the doctor for regular heart monitoring?

Heart disease becomes more common as you age so it is vital to see your regular primary care physician for regular checkups. When you reach your 60s, you should visit your doctor regularly to monitor your blood cholesterol, lipid panels, blood pressure and your Body Mass Index to ensure a healthy heart. If your doctor prescribes medicines to control your blood sugar, cholesterol, or blood pressure, make sure to follow his or her instructions.

Dr. Santhanam has practiced family medicine in the Lawrence area for more than 10 years. He is skilled in providing care to patients of all ages and accepts most major insurances.

For more information or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Santhanam or a physician with RWJ Medical group, call (609) 392-6366.