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Heart Month is well underway and medical experts at DHR Health in Edinburgh are reminding residents of the Rio Grande Valley to be proactive in preventing heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Unfortunately, in the valley we have an abundance of cardiovascular risk factors,” said Fiorella Llanos, general interventional cardiologist at DHR. “We have so much hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity. So we see a lot of coronary heart disease and a lot of peripheral vascular disease, which are two terms to describe the buildup of calcium, cholesterol, and fat in the arteries of the heart and the arteries of the leg, respectively.

Interventional cardiologist Dr Fiorella Llanos at DHR Health’s catheterization lab in Edinburgh on Friday. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

Llanos said the high rate of cardiovascular risk factors in the valley is multifactorial. She said the high risk could be attributed to genetics and an unhealthy diet due to RGV’s mouth-watering cuisine.

“The food here is really, really good,” said Llanos, from Lima, Peru. “Obviously it’s high in carbs and high in fat. It’s very worked. It’s a global pandemic – hypertension, diabetes and cholesterol – but incidents of these risk factors in the Valley are greater.

Heart disease may be more aggressive in Hispanic and Southeast Asian communities, she said, describing the problem in question as very complex – and which can also be attributed to early patterns of obesity and diabetes.

“I would tell patients not to wait until you have a problem to start taking care of yourself,” Llanos said. “Blockages in arteries to any part of the heart or body – they don’t build up overnight. They build up over decades of uncontrolled risk factors.

“I always tell my patients that the way we live our lives today is not the way we’re going to live in 20 or 30 years,” she said.

She doesn’t want her patients to avoid food from their culture, but recommends eating smaller portions with a healthy balance of leaner cuts of meat and more fruits and vegetables.

Along with healthier eating, Llanos also highlighted the importance of staying active

“Stay healthy and stay active,” Llanos said. ” It’s easier said than done. Any type of activity is useful. Let’s say you don’t have time to go workout at a gym, try parking your car a bit further from the store. If you must go upstairs, avoid using an elevator. If you have a desk job, get into the habit of getting up every hour or two and walking around the office or parking lot to stay active.

People who disregard Llanos’ advice run the risk of encountering Daniel Martinez, a cardiothoracic surgeon at DHR.

Cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Daniel Martinez at the Edinburgh Conference Center in Edinburgh on Friday. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

Martinez said the most common type of surgery he performs is open-heart surgery, specifically bypass surgery.

“It’s bread and butter for us,” Martinez said. “It’s the most common operation in the country, coronary bypass surgery.”

Like Llanos, Martinez said local eating habits and sedentary lifestyles are part of the genetic make-up of people in the valley.

“Overall, we’re not the healthiest people in the world,” Martinez said. “It’s a disease of the advanced world.”