Body & Mind

Protect Your Heart

Valentine’s Day isn’t the only time this month that you should think about your heart! February is Heart Health month, so I reached out to Dr. Hunter Champion, M.D., PhD, a Pulmonary Hypertension and Heart Failure specialist, to see what advice he had to share about protecting your heart. 

What should you look out for?

Anyone can be affected by cardiovascular disease, but heart problems become increasingly prevalent as we age. Preexisting conditions such as diabetes or rheumatologic and autoimmune conditions can also drastically increase the chances of heart issues. Family history plays a large component too, as there is a degree of genetic predisposition to cardiovascular problems. 

Some of the most common cardiovascular issues, such as heart attacks or strokes, can be acute and life-threatening. Often, the symptoms of these issues may begin to occur long before the acute episode and can include chest pain, dizziness, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, or fatigue. Another common problem to look out for is an artery blockage. These blockages can cause heart attacks or strokes, among other health complications.

Dr. Champion has some good news: just by going to a primary care doctor, your heart health is being monitored! Blood pressure checks, EKGs, and heart rate monitoring are all ways that you can check your heart health without having to make a special trip to a cardiologist. If your doctor notices anything that may warrant a closer look (like heart rhythm irregularity, murmurs, or blood pressure problems), they may refer you to a cardiologist for a further look.  

Still, there are many symptoms you can track on your own. If you have chest pain, shortness of breath, exercise intolerance, fatigue, or a history of cardiovascular disease within your family, it may be a good idea to check in with a doctor. Similarly, dizziness, passing out, pain or swelling in limbs, unusual weight gain with swelling, or difficulty laying flat in bed all may suggest cardiovascular problems like a potential arterial blockage or congestive heart failure. 

What steps can you take?

Eliza Morrill Photography //

Dr. Champion’s biggest piece of advice? Listen to your body. If you notice a change in your body, take it seriously, because seemingly insignificant changes may suggest something dangerous under the surface. One way that you can monitor your health is through a regular exercise routine and a healthy diet. In addition to being a great way to keep yourself healthy, it can be a great way to assess your heart health. For instance, if you maintain a regular exercise routine, then suddenly start to experience chest pains, increased exercise intolerance, or a new shortness of breath, you may be more likely to notice and get appropriate preventative treatment for any underlying cardiac conditions you may have. Dr. Champion likened it to the brakes on a car: if the car is always stationary, it can be hard to tell if the brakes are working. By getting the car moving, testing the systems, and having a professional check it, you can make sure the brakes are running smoothly. And like with cars, regular system checks become more and more necessary as we get older!

Remember, it is much easier to take care of things early on than it is to correct something that has already gone wrong. Taking preventative measures is vital! Dr. Champion encourages everyone to have annual physicals and blood work with their primary care team, to eat healthily whenever possible, and to start and maintain exercise routines. Most importantly, though, you must be willing to listen to your body and seek medical attention if or when any warning signs appear. So show your heart some love this Valentine’s Day by taking steps to protect it year round! 

Dr. Champion is part of Southeastern Cardiology and is on staff at Midtown Medical Center and Northside Medical Center. You can read more about him if you visit his website –