Cardiac CT Scan: Advanced Chest Pain Investigation

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New Technology Providing Early Detection of Heart Disease


In providing the most up-to-date care medical advancements provide, Dr. Zepick wants you to know that cardiac CT has come to the forefront in the investigation of chest pain and early detection of coronary artery disease.

New technology continues to be developed improve medical care and more effectively treat patients. Read on to understand how this advancement in cardiac medicine is giving cardiologists an enhanced view into seeing what is happening with a patient’s heart.

cardiology ct scan heart machine

Image by Freepik


What is Cardiac CT?

Cardiac Computed Topography (CT) Scan is a procedure using x-rays to view the heart. With multiple x-ray beams, the scan records high-quality images from multiple angles to produce a 3D image of an individual’s heart. This image includes visuals of vessels and surrounding structures. Some of the areas shown in these CT scans include the coronary arteries, heart chambers, pulmonary veins, thoracic aorta and the pericardium, the sac around your heart.

Simply put, this is advanced technology providing cardiologists like those at Zepick Cardiology the clearest picture of your heart and surrounding areas. We’ve never had a better view of a person’s cardiovascular system.


When Does Someone Need a Cardiac CT?

A cardiac CT is used to look for a variety of cardiovascular issues, including:

  • What could be causing chest pain or shortness of breath
  • Source for blockages: potential calcium or plaque buildup
  • Heart-related birth defects
  • Tumors or masses around the heart
  • Signs of aneurysms or problems with the aorta

Since these images provide such clear images of the heart and surrounding area, medical professionals are also utilizing these scans to help them prepare for procedures on their patients. The cardiovascular team may order a cardiac CT scan to prepare for a heart surgery or other procedures such as a transcatheter or an arrhythmia ablation.

Generally, a cardiologist orders a cardiac CT scan. However, the scan itself will most likely be performed by a team of trained technicians. Nurses will be involved to place an IV line or administer any necessary medications and doctors will oversee and interpret the images.

heart CT scan

Image by Freepik

How Safe is the Cardiac CT Scan?

A cardiac CT scan is a relatively quick and low-risk procedure. In fact, the entire procedure usually takes between 30-60 minutes, and that includes preparation time. The actual scan takes less than 1 minute.

Because CT scanners use a small amount of radiation, they are not recommended for anyone who is pregnant, unless additional measures are taken to protect the baby.

You may receive medicine to slow down your heart rate for the scan. If you have asthma or COPD, that may impede normal breathing. Talk with your doctor if you have either of those conditions.


Preparing for a Cardiac CT Scan

While a cardiac CT scan is not invasive, it does require some preparation by the patient.

In advance of the appointment, consult with your healthcare provider on:

  • All medicines you take, including over-the-counter.
  • If you have diabetes, discuss how you may need to adjust your medications for the day of your test as you will be avoiding food for many hours.
  • Inform them if you have any of these conditions:
    • currently pregnant
    • allergic to iodine, shellfish or any medications
    • undergoing radiation therapy
    • older than 60 or have a history of kidney problems


After a Cardiac CT Scan

After the scan is over, you will be released to go home. Then, you can go back to life as normal, enjoying your regular activities including eating, drinking, and taking your regular medicines (unless otherwise directed by your healthcare provider).

If you have diabetes or kidney disease, you may be instructed to increase your fluid intake to help get the iodine out of your body.


Getting your Scan Results

Your healthcare provider will inspect the images and interpret them. It will likely only take a couple of days before you come back in to go over the results.


More Information about Cardiac CT Scans

“Computed tomography coronary anatomy with functionality assessment could potentially become a first line in diagnosis.” Learn more about the state-of-the-art review of this advanced cardiological procedure in this article from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

For questions on cardiac CT scans or other heart issues, contact the experts at Zepick Cardiology in Wichita, Kansas. Call our office at (316) 616-2020.

Smart Food: Micronutrients That Help Your Heart

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The Best Vitamins, Minerals & More for Cardiovascular Health


We have known for a long time that your diet plays a big role in your health. What you eat impacts your risks for such conditions as diabetes, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. But what is inside food that causes this? This article delves into the science behind micronutrients – how the tiny components inside your food impact your heart health.

The cardiologists at Zepick Cardiology in Wichita work with patients at high risk for heart problems to make sure they know what foods are most effective at reducing their risk factors. Changing to a Pesco-Mediterranean diet is one lifestyle change to greatly benefit your heart.

What makes the Mediterranean diet or other diets focused on plants and fish so beneficial for your heart is their focus on foods that do not have a lot of saturated fat or sodium. But in addition to that, these diets encourage you to eat foods that are rich in micronutrients, including unsaturated fatty acids, antioxidant vitamins, and minerals.

Each food contains many different micronutrients. And some are better than others. After nearly 900 studies, involving more than 800,000 people, we now have valuable information including:

  • Which micronutrients provide the most cardiovascular benefits
  • Which risk factors are improved by micronutrients
  • Which diseases are most impacted by additional micronutrients

salmon rich in micronutrients to help your heart


What are Micronutrients?

Micronutrients are naturally occurring components in the food we eat. Many also exist artificially in food, drink and/or supplements. You only need to look down the vitamins aisle at the pharmacy or grocery store to see a dizzying amount of options. Each supplement can be beneficial in its own way. We will focus on several micronutrients that have been recently studied for their impact on cardiovascular health factors.

foods high in antioxidants


Twenty-seven micronutrients were studied, each of which fits into one of these categories:

  • Fatty acids
  • Amino acids
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Antioxidants
  • Polyphenols


The Power of Polyphenols

Among the studies on which micronutrients can benefit your health, polyphenols showed great results for a variety of health issues. Polyphenols are something you are likely getting on a regular basis, but probably don’t know much about.

Polyphenols are not one thing. They refer to a group of micronutrients naturally found in plants. About 8,000 polyphenols have been identified so far. Polyphenols are good for anyone’s diet, but they can especially make a positive impact on those suffering from illness or disease.

Polyphenols have been shown not just to help people who suffer from particular cardiovascular issues but also to improve health factors for people who do not suffer from disease. Healthy people receiving a median dose of polyphenols saw a reduction in lipid amounts and improved glucose and insulin numbers.


Micronutrients Findings: The Best & Worst for Your Heart

When it comes to preventing cardiovascular disease, n-3 fatty acid, folic acid (vitamin B9), and coenzyme Q10 (an antioxidant supplement) rank top on the list. They were shown to not only be helpful in reducing risk factors but also to make a positive impact on serious health events including overall mortality.

chart of micronutrient effects on cardiovascular issues


Among the micronutrients studied, few showed harmful impacts on cardiovascular issues. However, a median dose of 20 mg/d b-carotene did increase the risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease mortality, and stroke.


Micronutrients: Only 1 Part of a Heart Healthy Life

No micronutrient is a wonder drug. There is no magic pill to eliminate a person’s risk for a heart attack or stroke. While research shows promising results for micronutrients to make positive impacts, those benefits do not overcome any risks or non-optimum lifestyles individuals may still have.

Are you eating a heart-healthy diet? Are you getting regular, moderate exercise? Do you smoke? Does your family have a history of cardiovascular illness? There are many factors that can raise or lower your likelihood of having heart disease. Incorporating multiple heart-friendly lifestyle changes is the best way to improve your overall cardiovascular health.

Start looking for foods with these beneficial micronutrients to add to your regular diet.

Look for foods where these naturally occur, such as increasing plant-based foods to increase your polyphenols. Getting more n-3 fatty acids by eating fish, vegetable oils, nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds, flaxseed oil, and leafy vegetables. To get more folic acid, try to add more of these items to your diet: Dark green leafy vegetables, beans, peanuts, sunflower seeds, fresh fruits, fruit juices, whole grains, liver, seafood, and eggs.

Or find foods that have been fortified with these micronutrients. You can find several with added folic acid, also known as vitamin B9.

Getting the proper quantity to achieve the benefits research has found is important. Working with your primary doctor or a cardiologist like those at Zepick Cardiology can help you get the most beneficial dosage for any micronutrient that may benefit you and your health condition.


How Exercise (Even Without Weight Loss) Dramatically Helps Your Heart

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Best Types of Physical Activity to Reduce Cardiovascular Risks

how to exercise for your heart

When your doctor tells you that exercise can help your health, especially your heart, don’t think it is about weight loss. Yes, obesity is a risk factor for many health problems, especially cardiovascular issues, but there is another factor that puts you at greater risk for stroke, heart attack, diabetes, and other health problems – a lack of physical activity.

Whether or we like it or not, exercise is good for your body – especially your heart. And science proves it. But what science has also uncovered, which may be a great surprise to some, is that exercise even without weight loss is incredibly good for your heart. At Zepick Cardiology, we stress the importance of good lifestyle habits that can make big impacts on reducing our patients’ risk for serious heart conditions, including getting enough physical activity.

Many of us have had a battle with our weight scale and feel it’s a battle we can never win. But it is important that you do not let a number on a scale deter you from exercising. In this article, we’ll explain why the act of regular exercise can be incredibly beneficial for your heart health and how best to accomplish it.

Other studies show that aerobic exercise may also decrease arterial stiffness in people at greater risk for hypertension. Even as little as four weeks of incorporating aerobic exercise showed a “significant reduction” in arterial stiffness.

So, when it comes to incorporating exercise in your life to help improve your cardiovascular health, how much exercise do you need? And what kind of exercise is best?

woman exercising strength

Type, Amount & Intensity Level

If you are concerned about incorporating a lot of strenuous physical activity every day, you can relax. You do not need to start an intense daily exercise routine to achieve some significant benefits.

As we you will learn, even implementing a modest amount of activity into your lifestyle can start helping you reduce many serious health risks. Let’s start by understanding the recommended amount of fitness established by scientific research, an amount that most Americans do not meet.

If you feel you are out of shape, you are not alone. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), at least one in 4 adults do not meet physical activity guidelines. What are those guidelines? Each week adults should get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity.


How can you make that happen? Take a look at these potential examples of common activities to see ways you can adapt your schedule to meeting the minimum physical activity guidelines.

  • Take a 30-minute walk on your lunch break every day during the work week.
  • Do a 15-minute aerobic exercise video every morning each day during the work week.
  • Take a 15 to 20-minute walk after dinner every night
  • Take a 20 to 30-minute bicycle ride three times a week
  • Hit the gym and lift weights for 30-40 minutes twice a week
  • Do a calming water exercise class or gentle yoga class 2-3 times a week

cardiovascular exercise examples

Finding small ways to increase activity regularly each week will start to make an impact.

However, to achieve the biggest benefits to your heart, you will want to incorporate both aerobic training (like brisk walks, running, exercise classes, etc.) as well as resistance training, such as weightlifting. And you will want to gradually increase the intensity of those activities over time.

man lifting weights benefit heart health


Cardiorespiratory Fitness

One way that science has determined how much exercise can help improve your heart health is by measuring something called your cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF). Simply put, your cardiorespiratory fitness is how well your body’s circulatory and respiratory systems supply oxygen to the parts of your body that produce the energy that is needed during physical activity.

Your CRF is an actual measurement. And your individual CRF score is a bigger indicator of how your physical activity is helping your heart than how much you exercise. Even having a low CRF number is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease as well as premature mortality.

As this is primarily a measurement of how well oxygen flows through your body, the way the CRF is tested is by measuring oxygen consumption while exercising. For people who are obese, overweight, or elderly, typically their CRF number increases by about 3.8 during aerobic exercise.

How do you improve your CRF? With aerobic exercise. That could mean going for a run, but it can be something less strenuous. A good walk, especially a brisk one, can be a beneficial aerobic activity to incorporate into your lifestyle several days a week or even daily.

In exercise programs of 6-12 months long, participants lost on average only about 3-4 pounds. However, even with this small amount of weight loss, those who incorporated regular exercise saw significant reductions in harmful fat (the fat that wraps around your abdominal organs).

And it’s not just good for your heart. In people who are overweight or obese, aerobic exercise can greatly help improve insulin sensitivity and glycemic control – even when there are no changes in body weight. It can also lower blood pressure and cardiac overload.


Exercise is 1 Part of Improving Cardiovascular Health

Exercise and weight loss are just some ways you can reduce your risk for serious heart issues. Making changes to your diet, getting enough sleep, reducing your exposure to pollution, and quitting smoking are other great things you can do for yourself that will greatly improve your health.

But, along with that, you need to make sure you seek proper professional care and take any necessary medications to best reduce any cardiovascular threats you are facing. You need to be sure to follow the care of your physician and/or cardiologist. Here in Wichita, the experienced team of cardiologists and medical staff at Zepick Cardiology work with our patients to provide them with the knowledge and all the opportunities they have in reducing their heart risk, and for living long and healthy lives.

If you have any questions or concerns about your heart health, contact Zepick Cardiology at (316) 616-2020 or visit our website.
zepick cardiology clinic in Wichita

Biggest Research on Postmenopausal Women You May Not Know About

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How Diet, Vitamins & Hormone Therapy Effects Your Heart

Before 1991, very little research was done on health issues relating specifically to women’s health. This was especially true regarding heart health as cardiovascular problems were often considered more of an issue for older men. However, serious conditions like coronary heart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis are some of the most leading medical problems affecting death rates and quality of life in postmenopausal women in the United States.

Fortunately, in the 1990s, a massive study was launched to research specific treatments for postmenopausal women and their risks for cardiovascular disease and other serious medical problems. But while this study made massive gains in understanding postmenopausal women’s health, it is not widely known outside of the medical community.

Women’s Health Initiative Landmark Study

Three decades ago, the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) was launched. The WHI is a long-term national health study aimed at finding strategies for preventing heart disease, breast and colorectal cancer, and hip fractures in postmenopausal women. In this article from Zepick Cardiology, you will learn how such common treatments as taking hormone supplements and vitamins changed from what this study found.

This study yielded important information that changed how postmenopausal women have been cared for over recent decades.

The study resulted in such landmark trial findings, that it even continues to this day! The main study ran from 1993 – 2005. But extensions of the study are in process to last through 2027, and possibly beyond.

161,000+ Postmenopausal Women Studied

The depths of this study go beyond how long it has run. The number of postmenopausal women studied is quite staggering. Since the launch of WHI, more than 161,000 post-menopausal women have been included in the study.

161000 postmenopausal women in heart disease research

To put that in perspective. There are approximately 30,000 women of postmenopausal age here in Wichita. If every single postmenopausal woman in the city of Wichita participated, that would not even amount to one-fifth of the number of total participants in the WHI study!

This massive WHI research can be broken down into three separate studies looking into three specific types of treatments that were common for postmenopausal women: hormone therapy, dietary modification, and supplements.

Hormone Therapy & Heart Disease

The most significant findings from the research were on hormone therapies. The part of this WHI study focused on whether hormone therapy can decrease the risk for heart disease among postmenopausal women. Participants were either given estrogen alone or were taking both estrogen plus progesterone.

The WHI found that hormone replacement therapy did not prevent heart disease in postmenopausal women as once thought.

In fact, using hormone therapies can increase a woman’s risk for a variety of problems including:

postmenopausal women cardiovascular research on hormone therapy
  • Increased risk of stroke & blood clots
  • Increase risk of breast cancer
  • Increased risk of heart attack and stroke

This chart shows effects the difference between women in their 70s who took both estrogen and progestin versus those who took the placebo. You can see there is a clear increase in instances of heart disease, breast cancer, and strokes for women taking hormone therapy. Similar, yet less dramatic increases, were seen among the participants who were in their 50s and 60s.

These findings caused researchers to prematurely stop this part of the study in 2002. While taking hormones were found to decrease a postmenopausal woman’s risk for hip fractures, the increased health risks for such serious issues as cardiovascular issues and cancer outweighed whatever benefits that were possible.

The WHI trial changed the scientific community’s understanding of hormone therapy benefits for postmenopausal women. These results were a major reason why there was a sudden and sustained decline in prescribing hormone therapy treatment in the United States starting in 2003.

Dietary Modification Benefits

Many postmenopausal women in the group were studied to determine if dietary modifications could improve their heart health and decrease their risk for breast cancer and colorectal cancer. Participants undertook a low-fat diet that was high in fruit, vegetables, and grains.

While eating better has many great benefits, this study did not find a significant reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, or stroke in these participants.

Calcium & Vitamin D Supplements

One other part of the WHI study examined the effects of calcium and Vitamin D supplements. In particular, they were trying to see if postmenopausal women who took these supplements would have a decreased risk for heart disease, colorectal cancer, and hip fractures.

The study found no sufficient change in risk for heart disease and cancer from taking vitamins.

Better Care for Postmenopausal Women

Thanks to this WHI landmark study, we have improved cardiovascular care for women who are postmenopausal. This study is one factor that has helped to greatly reduce instances of heart disease in women over the decades.

causes of death for postmenopausal women

As this graph shows, the number of women 45-64 dying from heart disease or stroke has decreased since 1980.

Prior to this study, estrogen therapy had been recognized for decades as an effective treatment for many of the menopausal symptoms women experience. It was also believed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, estrogen became one of the most widely prescribed medications in the world by the 1980s and early 1990s.

According to the study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, “The findings shocked the medical and lay communities, leading to a seismic shift in clinical practice and a 70%-80% reduction in HT (hormone therapy) prescriptions.

Another long-running study focusing on cardiovascular care is the Framingham Heart Study which began back in 1948. You can learn more about that groundbreaking research and how it changed heart health care in dramatic ways in this article on the Framingham Heart Study. You can also learn more about the cardiovascular risks unique to women in this article on The #1 Cause of Death for Women.

For questions about your heart health and to understand your risk for cardiovascular disease, contact the friendly team of Cardiologists and medical staff at Zepick Cardiology in Wichita, Kansas.

Losing Sleep & Gaining Weight

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New Research Proves Poor Sleep Increases Weight & Risks to Your Heart Health

losing sleep and gaining weight - the effect of poor sleep on your health and heart

Not getting enough sleep is a common problem for Americans. In fact, more than a third of the U.S. adult population does not get an adequate amount of sleep.

You may have heard that not getting proper sleep can lead to weight gain, but what does the science say? New research has found a substantive link between sleep loss, weight gain, and increased risks to your heart.

At Zepick Cardiology, we know the importance of good health habits. There are many factors that increase your risk for cardiovascular disease including weight gain and obesity. Identifying what is putting someone’s heart health at risk helps us provide complete care for our patients. With this new sleep research, we can better understand how sleep plays a role in heart disease and create strategies for improving our patients’ health.

Effects of Being Awake Half the Night

What happens if you only get a half night’s sleep for two weeks? Will that make you gain weight? That’s what a study that recently concluded sought to find out.

Participants were limited to getting only 4 hours of sleep. Over two weeks, researchers tracked their body composition and what they ate. Would they eat the same amount of food as a control group? Would they eat more?

The answer was clear. The group who got only four hours of sleep each night increased how many calories they consumed compared to the group getting a full night’s sleep.

People who had a poor night’s sleep ate on average 300 calories more each day. To put that in context to weight gain, if consuming 3500 calories equals one pound of weight gain, a person eating an extra 300 calories daily would gain one pound about every 12 days. After a year of this, they would gain about 30 pounds.

sleep deprivation effect on your weight - you eat extra calories when you don't get enough sleep

What We Eat When We Are Sleep Deprived

These participants weren’t just eating more calories, the foods they chose were less nutritious.

This 4-hour sleep group primarily opted for foods higher in protein and fat. While both are important parts of a healthy diet, eating too many fatty meats and cheeses can exacerbate your risk for heart disease.

Research shows the best diet for optimum heart health is a Pesco-Mediterranean Diet.

Sleeplessness: More Than Just Weight Gain

Simply gaining a few pounds is not a big problem. But where you gain fat can be.

In this sleep study, people who didn’t get enough sleep typically gained about a pound over the two weeks. Researchers looked specifically to determine what kind of weight gain is created by a loss of sleep.

For healthy individuals, overeating primarily causes more subcutaneous fat, the fat found under the skin. But the participants getting a half night’s sleep saw fat growth of a different kind, an increase in their visceral fat. Visceral fat is located between your internal organs. This is a particularly problematic fat as it hurts your health more than fat located elsewhere in the body.

Having more visceral fat puts you at greater risk for certain health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke.

A small increase in fat was found in some people in the control group getting a good night’s sleep. However, it was not an increase in visceral fat. This finding further supports the link between sleep loss and visceral fat gain.

Slept Bad Last Night? Skip the French Fries Today

Millions of Americans struggle with getting sufficient sleep. However, you can help combat the risk of increasing dangerous fat during these sleepless nights by being proactive.

This new research shows you are more likely to consume an extra 300 calories or so during this time. With this knowledge, you can take steps to control your food intake around these sleepless nights.

If you have been suffering from a bout of sleeplessness, make efforts to consume a typical day’s meals during this time. Make smart, nutritional choices like avoiding high-fat foods.

The recommendation for a good night’s sleep is 7-9 hours. But can you just catch up on your sleep over the weekend? Unfortunately, no. Even after the sleep-deprived participants got three nights of “recovery sleep,” there was no change to their visceral fat deposition.

poor sleep leads to weight gain - new research on sleep effects on weight


Sleep loss does lead to weight gain.

The research concluded that sleep restriction leads to significant weight gain. The participants who only were given the opportunity to sleep for four hours each night gained an average of 1 pound over the two-week study.

But the real risks of sleep loss can’t be measured with your bathroom scale. A significant finding in this study was the type of fat that sleeplessness leads to. The research’s focus on body composition provides data that shows fat gained by sleep-deprived people is the more dangerous kind. They saw an increase in the kind of fat that more directly affects your risk for health problems including cardiovascular issues.

More research can provide further insight into the harmful effects of sleep loss. But with this current research, we now have the first causal evidence that links short sleep to increased abdominal obesity and visceral fat.

If you would like an appointment with a Wichita cardiologist or have questions about your heart health, call Zepick Cardiology in Wichita at (316) 616-2020.

Environmental Effects on Cardiovascular Health

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8 Tips to Protect Your Heart from Pollution Exposure

When you think of what may put you at risk for heart disease, you may not have considered pollution. However, there is an increased cardiovascular risk we face when we are exposed to poor air quality.

In this article, we will go over how pollution plays a role in your heart health as well as specific measures you can take to reduce your own risks.

Modern Steps Toward Reducing Heart Attacks & Cardiovascular Disease

Thanks to the many great advances in understanding what causes heart disease and determining highly effective ways to treat it, we have seen a 50% reduction in deaths from cardiovascular disease since 1950. However, pollution is an issue that continues to increase some people’s risks for cardiovascular issues.

Pollution caused an estimated 9 million deaths across the world each year. More than half of those deaths were from cardiovascular disease that resulted from that pollution exposure.

Tiny Particles = Big Heart Problems

The smallest particles of pollution are the areas of most concern. There are particles in the air that are so small, they easily pass through the body, reaching your lungs, heart, and other organs. Scientifically, they are called PM2.5, which stands for Particulate Matter that is 2.5 microns small or less. To put that size in perspective, thousands of those tiny particles could fit on the period at the end of this sentence.

tiny pollution particles put the biggest risk on cardiovascular health including heart attacks

Tiny particles are the greatest pollution risk to your heart.

effects of pollution on cardiovascular disease and stroke
Image Credit: New England Journal of Medicine

This chart from the New England Journal of Medicine shows how an increase in these small particles greatly increases an individual’s risk for various cardiovascular diseases.

The EPA recommends that a safe amount of these tiny particles is 35 micrograms.

Where do these tiny particles come from?

They are often created by vehicle exhaust. But can also come from burning fuels like oil or coal, as well as from powerplants. Even if you don’t live near a power plant, you may still be at risk for high exposure. These small particles can travel long distances, even across several states. In addition, they can come from wildfires and dust storms.

It may be hard to imagine that pollution is something to worry about indoors, but indoor air quality is a real concern. Smoking tobacco, burning candles or oil lamps, using your fireplace or space heater, and even cooking can create these tiny particles. Other sources include aerosol sprays and volatile cleaning products.

pollution in city of wichita skyline image

How bad is the pollution in Wichita?

Generally, Wichita maintains a relatively low and safe level of air pollutants. The levels do fluctuate over different seasons. In the late fall, it is relatively mild as the chart below shows.

You can check the current pollutant levels in Wichita at this website.

pollutant levels in city of Wichita that affects heart health

Who is at Greater Risk from High Pollution?

People who are ill or are elderly are at greater risk of being exposed to high levels of polluted air. Having current or prior heart disease or cardiovascular risk factors makes you more likely to be affected by pollutants.

Even recent studies on COVID 19 show that air pollution increased a person’s chances of dying from coronavirus disease.

Protecting Your Heart from Pollution: What Can You Do?

While many environmental threats are due to matters outside of an individual’s control, there are still several ways to be proactive in protecting yourself. You can minimize your exposure to several of the problematic pollutants with various lifestyle choices.

8 Tips to Protect Your Heart from Pollution Exposure

  1. Remove yourself from cigarette smoke exposure. If you smoke, quit. If you are around people who smoke, try to separate yourself from being exposed to the smoke.
  2. Improve your overall health by incorporating exercise into your life regularly and choosing a more plant-based diet.
  3. Purchase personal care products that say BPA-free.
  4. Reduce use of indoor air pollution sources including gas stoves, fireplaces, and incense.
  5. Consider getting air cleaners installed in your home that works with your heating and air system to purify the air coming through your vents.
  6. Pay attention to local air quality. When the levels are high, opt to stay indoors. In Wichita, you can monitor the city’s air quality here.
  7. If you’re not able to avoid facing poor indoor or outdoor air quality, wear a mask.
  8. Replace a high-traffic commute with an alternative route.
8 tips to protect your heart from pollution exposure including traffic change, masks, use of gas stoves and exercies

Another step you can take is to communicate to your physician or cardiologist any potential chemicals exposures you believe you face, such as your workplace environment.

If you have questions regarding your heart health, call Zepick Cardiology in Wichita at (316) 616-2020.

How Likely Are You to Have a Heart Attack in the Next 5 Years?

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Calcium Tests for Atherosclerosis: A Prime Predictor for Cardiovascular Disease

What is your risk for a heart attack in the next 5 years? The artery test making more accurate predictions

What puts a person at risk for a heart attack?

You can likely name various issues such as a poor diet, lack of exercise, and cholesterol problems. While those are factors that increase a person’s risk for a heart attack or developing other cardiovascular issues, it only scratches the surface.

We have probably all heard stories of the middle-aged man who ran daily and died of a heart attack, yet a man in his 90s who smoked his whole life never suffered any cardiovascular issue. So, we know there’s more to it than lifestyle.

How can we get a better prediction at who is more likely to face a heart attack or stroke over the next five years? Fortunately, new research that began in the year 2000 has gotten us closer to answering that question. Scientists have learned that one test was vital in identifying an individual’s risk for suffering a heart attack or other cardiovascular problem.

How likely am I to have a heart attack? Exercise is only one factor to help determine your risks

A study was initiated in 2000 to drill down these risk factors to provide a more accurate and early prediction for a given individual’s specific risk. If taking moderate heart-healthy measures are not enough to decrease your specific risk, you would have the information and tools to take additional steps to further protect your heart health.

This study was called MESA, the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis.

Blocked Blood Vessels: Testing for Calcium

For your heart to work well, it needs clear vessels for blood to pump through. When those vessels become blocked or damaged, that is coronary artery disease. The primary cause of coronary artery disease is atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis cardiovascular disease is probably something you never heard of, but it is quite common. More than 3 million cases of it are identified in the United States every year. Fortunately, there is treatment for someone with this disease or at risk for developing it.

Testing for atherosclerosis involves looking for calcium in your arteries. While calcium is great for your bones, it can be disastrous for your heart when there is a build-up of it in your arteries. It indicates your arteries may also have a build-up of plaque. Enough plaque in your arteries that harden could lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Having calcium in your arteries is not something you would notice or feel. It requires specific technology to test. Here in Wichita, technicians at Zepick Cardiology perform CAC tests to get this important information on an individual’s unique cardiovascular risks.

The MESA Study was able to determine that finding calcium in the arteries was a preeminent sign for being at risk for heart disease.  Simply put, if you had a large amount of calcium in your arteries, you were going to be much more likely to have some cardiovascular event occur within the next few years. Other tests on arteries, while still important, did not lead to as much conclusive evidence for future heart problems.

These calcium tests are so predictive, it helped identify high risk in persons that were considered low risk by American Heart Association guidelines. Reevaluating the risk using this more predictive test meant people could be given beneficial statin therapy who otherwise might not have been prescribed them.

Heart Attack Risks: Understanding your Coronary Artery Calcium Score

Patients who undergo the CAC test are given a rating from 0 to 300. A score of CAC = 0 means there was no calcium detected. A score of over 100 indicates a person who would benefit from a statin treatment.

While it is vital to identify when a person is at increased risk for a fatal condition, it is also incredibly valuable to identify when their risk is low. It can keep a person from taking medications or other treatments when it is not actually necessary for them at this time.

How does one get a coronary calcium screening? First, you would need to have it prescribed by a doctor, either your primary physician or a cardiologist. The test itself is done in a CT scanner.

CT scan to find calcium artery score in screening for cardiovascular disease risks
Patient undergoing CT scan test in the hospital

Bottom Line: The New Impact on Your Heart Treatment

The MESA study has given cardiologists greater knowledge in knowing a person’s specific cardiovascular risks. There are now more signs cardiologists like those at Zepick Cardiology can look to in order to better predict your risks for heart disease. The CAC test to determine calcium levels in your arteries provides an excellent indication if you need to start treatment, such as taking statins.

Should you still worry about making lifestyle choices that are proven to help prevent heart disease? Absolutely. But modern medicine can help make sure you have a clearer picture of what risks you really have and, more importantly, what you should do about protecting yourself.

If you are wondering about your risk factor, you can start by taking the ASCVD risk estimator plus calculator available for anyone online by clicking this link. This will provide you with a 10-year risk estimate for a heart attack or stroke.

If you know your CAC score already, you can enter it into this online CAC score assessment tool to determine how your score compares to others with similar heart disease risks.

If you have questions regarding your coronary artery health or are wondering if you need to undergo a CAC test to determine your individual risks, give Zepick Cardiology in Wichita a call at (316) 616-2020.

Zepick Cardiology on Hillside in Wichita, KS

The Standout Study Leading Today’s Heart Care

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The Research Unlocking the Answers of Cardiovascular Risks & Treatment

The care you receive for heart disease and other cardiovascular issues is incredibly different than a century ago. Advances in heart research gives cardiologists like those at Zepick Cardiology the most current and well-researched information to provide patients the best care available today. It was only a few generations ago that heart disease issues often went undetected or not treated successfully.

The reason behind so much of what doctors and scientists know today about the heart can be traced back to one amazing long-running study.

Cardiology doctor listening to heartbeat of Wichita senior patient with stethoscope

The Framingham Heart Study began in 1948 when we didn’t have a good understanding on what people at risk for developing cardiovascular disease. Also back then, the medical community did not have many answers for how to successfully treat it.

The Framingham Heart Study was so extraordinary at unlocking such life-saving information that it never stopped. In fact, the study continues to this very day with the children and grandchildren of the original participants. The study itself is an incredible story of scientific discovery. You can learn about how the Framingham Heart Study and the origins of modern heart care in this article.

What We Know About Heart Health Today Thanks to the Framingham Study

There are many things that we know about heart health we simply didn’t know 70 years ago. Some of the conditions that put people at risk for heart problems that may seem obvious to us now were not known before this study.

Thanks to the Framingham Study, in the 1950s we learned the following health issues increase a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Being overweight

In the 1960s, the Framingham Study added these risk factors to the list:

  • Smoking
  • Lack of physical activity

More risk factors were identified in the 1970s, including:

  • High blood pressure levels
  • Postmenopausal women

In the 1980s they discovered:

  • High levels of HDL cholesterol reduce risk of heart disease

In the 1990s, another big advancement occurred:

  • The Framingham Risk Score is published which correctly predicts 10-year risk of coronary heart disease

More findings came out in the 2000s including identifying increased risks from having prehypertension (blood pressure levels of 120-139) and the effect of a person’s social contacts. Researchers looked how the people you spend your time with affect such things as obesity, smoking cigarettes, and efforts to quit smoking.

Nearly 4000 medical journals have been published based on data from the Framingham Heart Study.

life-saving heart health discoveries from the Framingham Study on cardiovascular risks and treatments

The 10 Most Important Framingham Heart Study Findings

  1. Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a serious risk factor for heart disease. Before the study, it was believed that hypertension was a normal part of the aging process. Understanding this connection allowed for changes in treatment and further research into high blood pressure, including the contemporary SPRINT Trail that revised the standards of acceptable blood pressure rates.

  2. The study created the first and most impactful information on the risk factors for coronary heart disease (CHD). These primarily related to physical activity, cigarette smoking, diabetes, cholesterol levels and obesity. The study led to creation of a 10-year coronary heart disease risk calculator. Here is a link to the American College of Cardiology’s risk calculator.

  3. The major risk factors for heart failure were clearly identified as diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and parental heart failure.

  4. The Framingham Heart Study was one of the first to report on atrial fibrillation risk factors. In addition, it linked atrial fibrillation to higher instances of stroke, heart failure, and cognitive decline.

  5. The study looked at the connection between the heart and the brain. Framingham was the first study to show a higher level of a type of amino acid in your blood (serum homocysteine) increases your risk for dementia as well as heart disease.

  6. It identified a connection between smoking and intermittent claudication, a condition where a person has leg pains or aches while exercising. That symptom is an indication that there is likely too little blood flow to the muscles.

  7. The use of cardiac imaging was found to be a helpful tool in locating cardiovascular issues by looking at such things as heart wall thickness and atrial dimension. The study established normal levels of ventricular mass, cavity volumes and systolic function measures.

  8. The Framingham Heart Study established verifiable biomarkers in the prediction of cardiovascular risk for individuals.

  9. Thanks to having participants that span 3 generations, much was learned regarding the genetic and hereditary factors for heart disease.

  10. The study continues providing insight that delves into the molecular level of biology. For example, Framingham research is looking at how our gut microbiomes affect our risk for various diseases. This type of research has already solved the mystery of why some people absorb cholesterol from the intestines, yet others do not (it has to do with having certain bacteria inside the gut that metabolizes cholesterol).
cardiovascular technology using cardiac imaging to detect heart disease

The Future of Solving Heart Mysteries & Saving Lives

There is still so much to learn about the heart. Fortunately, the Framingham Heart Study continues into its 7th decade with an even greater ability to discover more cardiovascular disease risk factors and, even better, solutions to improving heart health and saving lives.

The data collected over the years continue helping scientists unlock new information about the heart. Using modern medical research technology, they can look at decades-old blood samples and discover even more information about what puts a person at greater risk for developing cardiovascular disease.

Today, the Framingham Study includes new research into the effects of exercise. Smartphones and devices participants can wear to track such things as activity and heart rate have been added to the information researchers are gathering.

“It is an exciting time for cardiologists and medical researchers. The scientific community continues gathering even more information into what makes the heart healthy and strong, allowing our doctors here at Zepick Cardiology to provide the most up-to-date information and best treatment for all our patients.”

-Dr. Lyle Zepick, Cardiologist, Board Certified in Cardiovascular Disease

The Origins of Modern Heart Care

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The Story Behind the Amazing 7-Decade Study into the Heart

When you receive treatment for your heart health at Zepick Cardiology or other cardiology clinic across the country, you are receiving expert care based on decades of medical research. Knowing what puts you at risk for heart disease and how to treat it came from intensive scientific study done over the past century.

Most of the cardiovascular knowledge we have today is thanks to a long-lasting and highly involved research done in one small town. In fact, the life-saving information we have today regarding heart disease can be traced back to a remarkable study that began 70 years ago.

For as long as many of you have been alive, scientific research has been (and continues to be) underway in one incredibly long and intense study on the heart. The longest-running cardiovascular study of its kind is the Framingham Heart Study.

A Brief History Lesson

The Framingham Heart Study began in 1948. Up until that time, cardiovascular disease was not as significant of a health concern as it is today. Not much was known about cardiovascular disease – neither where it came from nor how to prevent it.

President Franklin Roosevelt in 1944

Take for example President Franklin Roosevelt who died in office in 1945. FDR had a history of high blood pressure.

It was high before he entered office and became worse over time, reaching 210/100 the year before his death. On the day of his death, President Roosevelt’s blood pressure was an astounding 300/190.

While today we recognize this as a very serious case of hypertension, medical experts simply didn’t have that information back then.

Today, presidential blood pressure numbers like FDR’s would send the country’s leading doctors racing down hallways,” remarked Daniel Levy, Framingham Heart Study Director.

For the first half of the 20th century, the primary cause of death was from communicable diseases. We simply did not have the antibiotics and vaccines then as we do today.

But as medicines and vaccines were developed and started reducing deaths from illnesses like rheumatic fever and pneumonia, heart-related diseases started to come to the forefront.  In a rather short period of time, non-communicable diseases like cancer and heart disease became the leading causes of death. By 1950, 68% of all deaths were from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and renal disease.

The Participants of Framingham

This instrumental, decades-long heart study is named after a modest-sized town in Massachusetts. Framingham, located just about 20 miles away from Boston, was home to about 25,000 people in 1948 when the study began.

Nearly one in five Framingham residents were involved in the study. More than 5000 men and women of the town participated in this study at its start. All these participants were considered normally healthy and free from apparent cardiovascular disease.

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Framingham Heart Study physicians in 1948

The original plan of Framingham Heart Study was to follow the participants for 20 years.

There was an atypical number of women participating. Just over half of the participants were women, which was not usual for medical studies on chronic disease at that time.

The study initially failed at including a variety of ethnicities among the participants. But as you continue reading, you will see how the study’s great successes led them to include participants among more demographics.

Continuing the Heart Study: More Generations & Ethnicities

The Framingham Heart Study was proving to provide such great results, researchers didn’t want to it to end after two decades as was originally planned. Not only did they pursue continuing the study, but they also expanded it to include more participants.

Starting in the 1970s, many children of the existing participants were included in the expanding Framingham Study.

But the study would further expand beyond this 2nd generation. Beginning in 2002, many of the grandchildren of the original participants were included in the study. Having three generations of participants allowed for great opportunity to research genetic patterns related to cardiovascular disease.

The study also expanded to include more demographics to better match Framingham’s racial and ethnic population. Starting in the 90s, the study began including a diversity of ethnicities in the study. They expanded to include people of African American, Asian, Native American, Indian, and Pacific Islander descent.

To date, more than 15,000 people have been participants in this ongoing study of the heart.

Thanks to the dedication of researchers diligently looking into cardiovascular care and risk factors, cardiologists like those at Zepick Cardiology are able to provide exacting care to treat patients with heart disease. Decades of science and research have allowed doctors today to treat patients for cardiovascular issues better than ever before.

Imagine how much more will be learned from this ongoing Framingham Study and how more we can even improve cardiovascular care in the future!

Better Blood Pressure Management Can Save Lives

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How the Landmark SPRINT Trial is Reducing Risk for Cardiovascular Illness & Death

cardiology tools for checking blood pressure, used in the SPRINT study

Getting control of your blood pressure is an important step in reducing your risk for cardiovascular disease. The extent at how low to reduce your numbers and just how beneficial this is to your heart was proven in a recent landmark clinical trial.

While advancements are made in the medical industry every year, an intensive study into blood pressure is proving to provide great opportunities to decrease some people’s risk for cardiovascular disease. This is helping the cardiologists at Zepick Cardiology and doctors across the country provide the most informed treatment to better reduce patients’ risk for heart attack, heart disease and other serious illnesses.

This new research breakthrough came from the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial, aka the SPRINT Study. The research focused on answering one question:

“Will lower blood pressure reduce the risk of heart and kidney diseases, stroke, or age-related declines in memory and thinking?”

This was exciting news for us at Zepick Cardiology. Our cardiologists constantly stay on top of the latest medical information, especially pertaining to the study and treatment of heart-related issues and diseases. Having the latest knowledge and proven data allows us to better treat our patients here in the Wichita area.

Blood Pressure: A Growing Problem

Our county faces a serious problem with blood pressure rates. It is estimated that as many as 103 million American adults suffer with high blood pressure. That means one in three people have issues from it, and it gets worse with age.

If you are over 65, chances are you have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. As many as 60% of seniors suffer with hypertension and that percentage is only increasing.

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High blood pressure is a serious concern because of the increased risk it brings to developing other dangerous conditions. Having hypertension means you are more likely to experience health problems including:

  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Kidney disease
  • Cognitive decline

What is a Healthy Blood Pressure Level?

For many decades prior to the SPRINT study, it was established that rates of acceptable numbers were up to 140 mm Hg for healthy adults and up to 130 for those with kidney disease. That would mean that a person with a blood pressure rate in the 130s would typically not receive treatment to lower it. 

The SPRINT study intended to find out if there was enough proven benefit to increase these standards, to lower the desired blood pressure rate of patients down to 120.

The study put about half of the participants in an intensive group. These people received the necessary treatment to bring their number down to 120. The other half comprised the standard group and received less intensive treatment, only enough to keep their blood pressure down to under 140.

On average, the intensive group received three medications for blood pressure versus the standard group participants who received on average only two.

In the intensive group, they were able to bring the rating down to an average of 121.4. In the standard group, it was brought down to an average of only 136.2

The Expansive SPRINT Study

Despite its name, this trial was nothing like a sprint. For any scientific research to provide reliable information, it must meet rigorous standards. The SPRINT study was expansive, and its results were conclusive.

More than 9000 people participated in the SPRINT trial. While the average participant was 68, every participant was at least 50 years old. At least a quarter were 75 or older.

Each person had blood pressure rates of at least 130 and had increased cardiovascular disease risk. Some were previous or current smokers. And many were overweight according to their BMI.

The study began in late 2010 and was expected to last as long as 8 years. However, the results came back so reliable, the study was concluded earlier than expected, with the completion date of July 2016. It was important to health and medical experts that the findings be spread and utilized immediately to best serve the public’s best interest.

We now had new medical data that could help save lives. The experts knew the results were so conclusive, there was no reason to wait.

SPRINT Study Results

This Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial proved that lowering blood pressure below 130 reduced rates of several cardiovascular events, including strokes, heart attacks, and heart failure by nearly a third. It reduced the risk of death by nearly 25%.

The trial found that increased treatment for reducing blood pressure is beneficial, specifically for people who:

  • Are elderly
  • Have a high blood pressure (at/over 130 mm Hg)
  • Have a high risk for cardiovascular disease
  • Are tolerating their blood pressure medications well

According to the National Library of Medicine, if the new guidelines informed by the SPRINT study were put in place for adults across the country, we could prevent hundreds of deaths every year.

Danger of Increased Treatment?

With increased medications can come potential for harm from that treatment. Therefore, this study evaluated any harmful effects created by the increased treatment used to reach the lower 120 goal. They looked for such things as electrolyte abnormalities, fainting from a rapid drop of blood pressure, and increased risk of falls.

The study found that the intensive blood pressure treatment was indeed beneficial. It determined that any potential harm from the additional medication did not outweigh the overall overwhelming benefit of reducing to lower numbers.

“These results are extraordinary and provide us even better knowledge and tools in treating our patients’ heart health,” stated Dr. Zepick. “With this proven research, we can put a greater emphasis on reducing blood pressure levels, knowing that such treatment is a safe option to greatly reduce their risk of serious, even fatal, cardiovascular issues.”

Lessons learned in this landmark clinical study are changing treatment procedures for the better.

It helped inform new high blood pressure clinical guidelines of the American Heart Association as well as the American College of Cardiology. Previously, a blood pressure rating was considered high at 140. Now with the results of the SPRINT study, 130 is now considered a high rate, which means:

  • People who might not have previously been given treatment for hypertension now will be classified as needing treatment.
  • Patients already receiving blood pressure treatment may now receive more intensive treatment to bring it to lower, healthier numbers.

Beyond Heart Health

what is a healthy blood pressure measuring cuff, SPRINT study

This SPRINT study is the first large prospective trial demonstrating the overwhelming health benefit of a healthy blood pressure rating of 120 in regard to cardiovascular health. But the benefits of the SPRINT study go beyond treating cardiovascular problems.

As mentioned earlier, the study looked at the effects of hypertension on other serious issues including chronic kidney disease and cognitive decline.

The completed research shows that enhanced efforts lowering numbers to more normal 120 rates did improve issues with chronic kidney disease. However, research is still ongoing regarding its effects on cognitive functioning including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

How Can This SPRINT Research Help Me?

If you have high blood pressure, you are at an increased risk for various problems including heart attacks and heart disease. And if you are at least 50 years old, this research suggests you may greatly benefit from a treatment plan to get your number under control.

Seeking out help from your doctor or an experienced cardiologist like those at Zepick Cardiology who understand how to implement the newest guidelines for your heart health is a great first step.

There is no one answer that works for every person. You will want to work closely with your doctor to ensure you are on a proper treatment plan. A good plan is one that works to safely improve your overall health.

“We know now that the lower blood pressure goal of 120 had better outcomes than the 140 goal. This doesn’t necessarily though apply to a given individual. It applies to the population.”

It’s going to be important to determine now what are the individual characteristics that may relate to this new improved goal. What are those factors that would help us to determine whether a given individual should be treated to that goal? Or whether perhaps they should be treated to a different goal?

So, the individualization of blood pressure management is going to take on more energy now given these exciting findings.”

-Dr. William Haley, principal investigator for Mayo Clinic of the SPRINT study

Concerned About Your Blood Pressure?

If you are concerned that your blood pressure is too high, you should get it checked by a medical profession. You can contact your general practitioner, or you can make an appointment with a local cardiologist directly.

Contact Zepick Cardiology here in Wichita. Call (316) 616-2020 to arrange for a visit with a cardiovascular specialist on any heart health concerns you have.

Zepick Cardiology on Hillside in Wichita, KS