Senator Bernie Sanders, a democratic candidate running in the 2020 presidential election, was recently hospitalized to have stents put into two of his coronary arteries to restore blood flow to and from his heart. It was later revealed he was actually hospitalized for a heart attack. Until further notice, Mr. Sanders has cancelled all of his campaign appearances. Mr. Sanders, who is 78, tweeted on the day following his surgery that he was “feeling good. I’m fortunate to have good health care and great doctors and nurses helping me to recover.” Senator Bernie Sanders is known for his grueling campaign schedule, and during his first presidential campaign, in 2016, released a letter from his doctor stating that the senator had “no history of cardiovascular disease.”5
As Life Line Screening is in the business of helping people understand their risk for developing cardiovascular disease, we naturally ask ourselves if Mr. Sanders’ need for stents, or if the plaque buildup in his arteries could have been prevented.
The answer is that there is really no answer. Heart disease is the #1 cause of death for men and women, not only in the U.S., but worldwide.1 Many, many people have cardiovascular disease, and for some of these people, the first symptom they feel is chest pain (as Mr. Sanders experienced), other physical symptoms, or a full blown heart attack or stroke. So despite the fact that so many people have cardiovascular disease, diagnosis often comes too late, and only after a catastrophic (or near catastrophic event). In fact, for 4 out of 5 people who have a stroke, the first symptom is the stroke.2 The biggest opportunity for prevention comes in understanding your risk for developing cardiovascular disease, and working with your doctor to minimize your risk factors and possibly prevent these events from occurring.
Using medical data and research around how cardiovascular disease develops, the medical community has identified these key risk factors for the development of cardiovascular disease:
Some of the risk factors listed above are modifiable with lifestyle changes (which is much easier said than done) but heart disease can also run in families, meaning it is genetic. Not everyone can prevent the development of cardiovascular disease, no matter what their eating habits are or how much they exercise. But taking a few simple steps can help to minimize the risk of developing cardiovascular disease:
Screening methods that can actually identify the presence of cardiovascular disease are available, but access to these tests can be a complicated process. Unless you are actively experiencing symptoms of cardiovascular disease, your insurance may not cover the cost of diagnostic testing for cardiovascular disease, even if you are a presidential candidate. It can also be expensive. Much of standard insurance coverage is based on treatment, not prevention, so when someone experiences chest pain like presidential candidate Senator Sanders did, access to the diagnostic and treatment tools becomes available. The good news is that there are options available for people to take control of their health and get screening tests that provide concrete data around their risk for cardiovascular disease that they can discuss with their doctors:
While there is no guaranteed way to prevent all forms of cardiovascular disease, there are steps people can take to understand their risk for cardiovascular disease and work with their doctors to manage the risk.
1 Centers for Disease Control, Heart Disease Facts, https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm
2 National Stroke Association, https://www.stroke.org/en
The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 104, Issue 9, September 2019, pp. 3939-3985, https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/104/9/3939/5540926/
3 American Heart Association, heart.org, https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/atrial-fibrillation/what-is-atrial-fibrillation-afib-or-af
4 C-Reactive Protein Test to Screen for Heart Disease, Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, March 21, 2017, https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/c-reactive-protein-test-to-screen-for-heart-disease
5 The New York Times, Bernie Sanders Is Healthy, His Doctor Declares, January 28, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/politics/first-draft/2016/01/28/bernie-sanders-has-had-gout-other-ailments-but-is-in-very-good-health-doctor-says/