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Four Cardiologists Talk About
Your Heart Health

Family History

“What does it mean when we say a ‘family history of heart disease?’ It doesn’t mean that your father developed an arrhythmia at 80 or mom had a stent at 75. A family member with heart problems later in life does not necessarily mean you are at higher risk. Family history generally refers to an immediate family member who had a heart attack or stent prior to 55 years of age. The most important thing, if you have a family history of heart disease, is to address it early—in your 20s and 30s. Don’t wait until your 40s. Coronary disease means cholesterol debris builds up in your heart arteries gradually until it reaches the tipping point where you have a heart attack. That buildup of plaque can begin as early as adolescence. Although people with a family history of coronary disease are at higher risk, you can take steps to dramatically reduce that risk. By addressing it when you’re young, adopting a healthy lifestyle, exercising, watching your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol… that’s how you can do the most good for your heart and yourself.”


“I always start by asking my patients, ‘How are you feeling?’ ‘Great,’ they often say. Then I ask, ‘What are you doing for exercise?’ ‘Nothing.’ ‘Why not?’ The reasons are familiar ones—not enough time, too hard, nowhere to exercise. One of the misconceptions people have is that they have to participate in intensely strenuous exercise every day in order to be heart healthy. Really, 30 minutes of moderately intense activity, five times a week, meets national recommendations. The important thing is to start developing good habits. To make something a habit, you have to do it consistently for many days in a row. To start your exercise habit, commit to exercising for two weeks. If you can’t do 30 minutes each day, do 15 minutes and build up from there. Even if you are a total couch potato, you can start low and go slow. One reason why we offer cardiac rehab programs for our heart patients is that it’s forced fun—a commitment to exercise that becomes a new lifestyle. You just have to build from whatever base you have, but by being intentional about exercise every day, you will create a pattern that will become a heart healthy habit.”



“Many symptoms of heart problems come and go, such as heart palpitations and chest pain. And while they can represent serious problems, in most cases they don’t. Nevertheless, my general advice is if you feel something you haven’t had before, or if something is persisting more than a few seconds, it makes sense to get it checked out. We have a wide range of tools to help us rule out heart problems… from treadmill stress tests to echocardiograms. We have heart monitors that you can wear for a couple of weeks, instead of just 24 hours. That gives us a better chance of catching something that is only occurring every couple of days or every week. You can even use an app for your smartphone called Kardia Mobile. If you’re experiencing symptoms, you can use the app to actually do an EKG and send the results to me. My practice tends to be oriented around nutrition and prevention—we help you develop a heart-healthy lifestyle. But when symptoms arise, we want to identify the cause quickly, so we can provide the best possible care for your long-term health.”


“I have a lot of patients who are skeptical of some of the best medical therapies we prescribe, such as statins to control cholesterol and blood thinners for atrial fibrillation to protect against a stroke. Many have read highly provocative stories in non-scientific magazines or on the Internet that cause them to question our recommendations. I try to show them the facts. For example, it’s a fact that blood thinners we prescribe for appropriate patients reduce stroke risk by 70%. Also, statin therapy is probably the single most important advance in preventive cardiology that has come about in the last generation. Statins have a central role in limiting the progression of atherosclerotic vascular disease, which is a top cause of mortality and morbidity in the U.S. When I prescribe a new medication, I explain what it does. It’s part of my job to establish trust, so my patient does not feel anxiety regarding my recommendations. I don’t take prescribing medication lightly. In the end, it all comes down to one goal—giving my patients the best possible outcomes.”

Contact Info


  • Phone: 703.DIAL.VHC      
  • Fax: 703.717.7781
  • Address:
    1625 N George Mason Dr.
    Suite 354
    Arlington, VA 22205
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Stephanie Forster, EP, CCRP and David Shawler

WERA 96.7 - LP FM

Listen to the conversation with Stephanie Forster, EP, CCRP, Virginia Hospital Center, about preventing heart disease and promoting heart health.

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