Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and every minute an American dies from complications of heart disease. This statistic is staggering and should not be ignored.

February is American Heart Month and it is the perfect time for you to make sure you are following a heart-healthy lifestyle.

You have the power to prevent or reduce your risk of heart disease by following five important steps: stop smoking, exercise regularly, eat a well-balanced diet, maintain a healthy weight and see your doctor for regular checkups.

About one-third of patients who need a new heart valve in the U.S. do not receive it because they are at high risk for open heart surgery. As people age, the risks associated with open-heart surgery also increase, which is why it is important to find a new and less invasive way of repairing the aortic valve.

 Jackson Memorial Hospital is one of a handful of few medical centers in the nation offering such a procedure known as percutaneous aortic valve replacement. This involves implanting the valve using a catheter threaded through the patient’s femoral artery in the leg. It is done under local anesthesia and is minimally invasive, which is in sharp contrast to open-heart surgery.

Miami resident Isadore Bernstein, 93, has benefited from the procedure. He struggled for years with shortness of breath, little energy and uncomfortable, unexplained pressure in his chest. Walking just a few steps was a challenge. Doctors told him he was not a candidate for open-heart surgery because it was too risky in his frail condition.

 In December, Bernstein underwent percutaneous aortic valve replacement at Jackson. The valve replacement procedure was performed by making a small incision in the groin without the need for open-heart surgery.

Almost immediately, he noticed an improvement. “I can breathe again,” he said. “It was life-changing.”

Heart failure is a common complication for patients who have had high blood pressure for many years or suffered from heart attacks. Therapy and medications can often improve heart function and, at times, pacemakers or defibrillators are needed to regulate the heart rhythm.

In the most extreme cases of heart failure, a transplant is often the only option.

For more information on heart disease, visit the American Heart Association Web site at heart.org. To learn more about Jackson’s cardiac services, visit the Jackson Health System website at jhsmiami.org.

Alexandre Ferreira, M.D., FACC, is the clinical chief of cardiology for the Jackson Health System. He is also a volunteer associate professor of medicine for the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

5 important steps:
1. Stop smoking
2. Exercise regularly
3. Eat a well-balanced diet
4. Maintain a healthy weight 5. See your doctor for regular checkups

Photo: Alexandre Ferreira, M.D.