Understand, Treat, and Prevent Coronary Heart Disease

By Waqar Khan, M.D., M.P.H.

What is the No. 1 killer of both men and women in the United States? It isn’t cancer. It isn’t traffic accidents. It isn’t gun violence. It isn’t terrorism. It’s coronary heart disease (CHD). Every 43 seconds an American dies from a coronary event. That’s more than 2,000 deaths per day. And every year an estimated 735,000 Americans suffer a heart attack. If you or a loved one is living with CHD, you’re not alone. Roughly one-half of middle-aged men and one-third of middle-aged women have some form of CHD. In spite of the numbers, Americans are more afraid of terrorist attacks, mass shootings, car crashes, and cancer. After the Parkland, Florida school shooting this year, for example, the dialog about gun control has dominated the news cycle. As horrifying as gun violence is, the death toll due to firearms in 2017 was 15,625. Heart disease claimed over 700,000 lives. It’s time to shift the national conversation from the sensational stories to the one that is most likely to end your life or the life of someone you love—heart disease. And it’s time for anybody who has been diagnosed with CHD to view it as a fight for their life—which it is—and to take action now to improve their health and prevent an early death. If your doctor has diagnosed you with coronary heart disease or if you’ve suffered a heart attack, you likely have a lot of questions.

Why did this happen to me? What treatments are available? What can I do to prevent a future heart attack?

I often hear these questions from my patients after they have suffered a heart attack, experienced a frightening episode of chest pain, or been diagnosed with CHD. As a board-certified interventional cardiologist in private practice for more than 20 years in suburban Houston, I’ve treated thousands of people from all ages and all walks of life—executives, construction workers, tech industry leaders, teachers, firefighters, pilots, stay-at-home moms, and more. Countless times in my career, I’ve informed my patients about the causes and risk factors for CHD, filled them in on the latest treatment options, and introduced them to lifestyle changes that can improve their heart health and help prevent future heart attacks. But like most busy doctors, I don’t always have time to fully explain everything about CHD and the exciting advances in its treatment. Similarly, my patients often don’t have the time to scour the internet for additional information. And they don’t always know how to weed out the wacky “miracle cure” scams from the evidence-based facts.

That’s where BE HEART SMART comes in. I wanted to give my patients and their loved ones the detailed information they can use to take charge of their heart health. BE HEART SMART is intended to answer the questions I hear on a daily basis in my office. You may have many of these same questions. Although primarily intended as a resource for patients with CHD, this book also serves as a guide for family members and friends who are supporting their loved ones through the process. Using real-life patient stories, it can help you gain a better understanding of CHD and discover topics you may want to discuss further with your own doctor to ensure you are doing everything possible to enhance your well-being. The information in these pages is based on the most up-to-date, rigorous scientific evidence. It will serve as an eye-opener to show you that having a heart attack or getting a diagnosis of CHD isn’t the end of your life. Instead, it can be the beginning of a new heart-smart lifestyle that will lower your risk of future coronary events and keep your heart healthy for years to come.






The Introduction offers a glimpse into who I am—a busy interventional cardiologist—and shares that this book will offer detailed answers to the questions I hear on a daily basis in my office.

Chapter 1: Heart Basics: Coronary Heart Disease, Acute Coronary Syndrome, and Heart Attack

This chapter offers a look at how the amazing heart works, the biological underpinnings of how CHD develops, and introduces a concept every patient should know: acute coronary syndrome.

Chapter 2: Know Your Risk Level

This chapter exposes the greatest risk factors for developing CHD in the next decade and debunks 10 common myths about what causes heart attacks.

Chapter 3: Recognize the Symptoms and Warning Signs

This chapter reveals the most heart attack common symptoms as well as the warning signs and silent symptoms people often ignore, plus five simple steps to help you survive a heart attack.

Chapter 4: Get a Diagnosis

This chapter demystifies the diagnosis process—from what to expect from a cardiologist visit, to common tests, to dealing with the emotional aspects of being diagnosed with CHD.

Chapter 5: Medications

This chapter offers an overview of the short-term life-saving drug therapies used in emergency situations and the long-term medications that lower your risk for a heart attack.

Chapter 6: Angioplasty and Stents

This chapter explores the invasive procedure that more than 600,000 people undergo each year to open clogged arteries, reduce complications from a heart attack, and prevent repeat heart attacks.

Chapter 7: Bypass Surgery

This chapter examines types of bypass surgery, offers a guide to what to expect and how to best recover from it, and explains why it’s no longer the go-to treatment option for a heart attack.

Chapter 8: Treating Complications of a Heart Attack

This chapter reveals the complications that can occur following a heart attack and the powerful treatment options to heal them.

Chapter 9: Eat Heart-Healthy Foods

This chapter steers clear of fad diets, instead offering a flexible, evidence-based eating plan that lowers cholesterol levels, improves arterial function, and reduces the risk of heart attack.

Chapter 10: Weight Loss for Cardiac Patients

This chapter offers quick-hit overviews of some of the most popular, evidence-based heart-healthy weight-loss plans so readers can find one they can stick with for life.

Chapter 11: Move More, Stress Less, and Tame Depression

This chapter offers a blueprint for post-heart attack cardiac rehab, including guidelines for exercise—how much? how intense?—plus tools to manage stress and treat depression.

Chapter 12: Quit Smoking

This chapter reveals the number-one lifestyle you can make to reduce your risk of CHD—quitting smoking—and offers proven strategies to help you kick the habit.


This brief wrap-up encourages you to become your own health coach and to work closely with your doctor to find the best treatment options to keep your heart healthy for years to come.