Ask the Pharmacist: How Can I Improve My Heart Health?

February is American Heart Month. Take a few moments to learn more - for your heart’s sake.

Most people feel a need to only take their medication when they feel sick. But in the case of the heart health issues of hypertension and elevated cholesterol, this type of thinking could kill you.

Patients with these heart conditions are often completely asymptomatic - that’s the reason these conditions are often called silent killers. Elevated cholesterol has no visible symptoms. The belief that headaches, nose bleeds, nervousness, sweating, and facial flushing are symptoms to take blood pressure medication is a myth.

The scope of cardiovascular disease is enormous. According to the American Heart Association and 2020 government statistics, cardiovascular diseases remains the number one cause of death in the United States, and claims more lives each year than all forms of cancer and chronic lower respiratory diseases combined, affecting 121.5 million Americans.

Simply keeping blood pressure under control decreases the risk of heart attack by 56 %, stroke by 61% and heart failure by 43 %, according to the National Institutes of Health. Similar dramatic results are seen with cholesterol control. Every 10% decrease in LDL cholesterol reduces the chance of a heart attack and stroke by 15%. To drill down on this, many statin medications decrease cholesterol by 30% to 40% or more, decreasing heart attack and stroke risk by 45% to 60%.

Here at the Express Scripts Cardiovascular Therapeutic Resource Center® we are making a difference in medication adherence which is key to managing these diseases. This includes early detections with tailored interventions to improve member adherence and deliver healthcare savings to clients. Simply by taking their medications as directed our patients may require fewer emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and enjoy better health.

Actionable tips you can do now to improve your heart health

  1. If you presently require heart medications, develop memorable habits to consistently take your medications as your physician has directed. Monitor your blood pressure regularly, and get cholesterol screenings on a regular basis.
  2. Get active. Just 10 minutes of physical activity daily can lower your risk of having a heart attack significantly.  Aiming for 30 minutes a day lowers your risk even more. If you sit much of your day, take a walk on your breaks, and possibly stand at your workstation part of your day if possible.
  3. Don’t wait until you’re older to address heart health. High obesity rates, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes are happening at increased rates in our younger population, putting them at risk of heart disease earlier in life.
  4. Let’s get personal. Watch your stress level as it leads to heart disease. Practice deep breathing to relieve stress, keep anger in check, and laugh more. Laughter helps your blood vessels to relax and expand, keeping your heart working properly. Get enough sleep too, as it lowers stress and your risk of heart disease.
  5. Stop smoking. Smoking damages blood vessels and can cause heart disease. Ask for help if needed.
  6. Maintain – or work toward – a healthy weight with diet and exercise. Develop heart-healthy eating habits low in trans-fat, saturated fat, added sugar, and sodium. As a rule of thumb fill at least half your plate with vegetables and fruit, and pick low sodium options.

A Wholehearted Solution to a Costly Condition

While medications to treat cardiovascular diseases are having positive outcomes for patients, the cost of treatments is taking a toll on patients and payers. Express Scripts has developed a solution that holistically tackles the clinical and financial challenges of heart conditions and their critical medications.

When costly PCSK9 inhibitors came to market, we launched the Cholesterol Care ValueSM program to ensure affordability and appropriate access. Through this program, plan sponsors and members benefited from our innovative value-based contracting strategy. Effective January 1, 2020, we expanded the program to more holistically combat the devastating health and financial consequences of cardiovascular disease. The program, now called Cardiovascular Care ValueSM, includes other heart conditions to increase access and adherence and reduce pharmacy spend and downstream medical complications and costs.

The Beat Goes On

Take some time this month to learn more about heart health and how you can help protect yourself and your loved ones from the risks of cardiovascular diseases.

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