Cardiovascular Health Resources & FAQs

Do you have questions about your heart health? Not sure if you should see a cardiologist? The heart specialists at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health have answers! See below for resources and frequently asked questions about your heart. 

Are you taking good care of your heart?

Virginia Mason Franciscan Health is dedicated to your heart health. From helping you prevent conditions before they start to offering you support and education after your treatment, we will be with you every step of the way to living a healthy life.

An estimated 80 percent of cardiac and stroke events can be prevented through action and education. You’re never too old-or too young-to take steps toward a healthier heart.

When to see a heart health specialist

Your primary care doctor can help you reduce your risk of heart disease and monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol. But how do you know when it’s time to seek the help of a heart specialist?

If your provider suspects any serious conditions, or if lifestyle changes fail to reduce your risks of heart disease, you may be referred to a heart specialist. A specialist will suggest the tests you need to recommend management or prevention techniques. Here are some of the reasons you, or your provider, may decide it’s time to see a specialist:

  • Family history

If one, or more, of your immediate family members has been diagnosed with heart disease, high cholesterol or high blood pressure, you’re considered to have a family history of heart disease. If you have a family history and any symptoms of heart disease, you may be at increased risk. A heart specialist can help you evaluate your risks, recommend healthy habits to prevent heart disease, or manage existing conditions with medication or other treatment plans.

  • Chest pain

This can feel like an intense squeezing, pressure or pain in the chest. The pain may spread into the shoulders, neck, arms or jaw. You should be especially cautious if your chest pain becomes more intense, isn’t relieved by rest, or is combined with one of these additional symptoms:

  • Sweaty, cool, clammy and/or pale skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Vertigo (dizziness)
  • Fainting
  • Weakness and fatigue

If you think you’re experiencing a heart attack, heart failure or other cardiac event, call 911.

Major risk factors

Some conditions have strong links to heart disease and may need the attention of a heart specialist to assess and help manage, including:

  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Complications during pregnancy, such as preeclampsia
  • Gum disease

Heart health resources

Find a variety of resources ranging from heart-friendly recipes to health tracking tools and more.

Heart health during COVID-19

Heart health classes, health talks and events

Health care experts answer all your heart care questions and help you learn about proper nutrition, medication use and exercise. 

Find classes

Vascular screenings

These screenings help catch vascular conditions before they become a problem.

Learn more

Patient stories

Watch firsthand stories from our patients.

Learn more

Tips for keeping your heart healthy

  • Heart-healthy recipes

    Looking for heart-friendly recipes but don’t know where to start? The American Heart Association is a great resource for finding delicious heart-healthy recipes.  

  • Maintain a healthy weight 

    • Avoid drinking your calories; choose water and avoid high-sugar beverages like soda, blended coffee drinks and energy drinks.
    • Avoid skipping breakfast; eating in the morning will start up your metabolism.
    • Eat every three to five hours to keep your metabolism moving.
    • Meal planning is key to weight management. Pick one day a week to write out your menu and stock your home with healthy options based on your menu plan. Also, avoid going grocery shopping on an empty stomach.
    • Exercise is essential to long-term success with weight loss.
    • Eat out as little as possible; when you do, make smart and healthy choices.
    • Keep a food record to identify where or when you are overeating.
    • Fill up on fiber. Foods high in fiber will help you feel full longer with fewer calories.
  • Eating out

    High sugar and fat content in restaurant food can be bad for your heart, so be cautious with your choices. Avoid deep-fried foods, cream-based soups, white sauces, gravies and high-fat meats. Instead, look for fish options; choose broiled, grilled, steamed or baked items prepared with little or no added oils; and request steamed veggies and whole-grain starches. Another great calorie-saving alternative is to share your entree with a friend or have half your meal boxed up for another day.

    Many restaurants have nutrition facts available online or on the menu to help you make smarter choices. Do some research before going out, and select restaurants that offer healthy menu options.

  • Healthy portion control

    Prevent overeating and promote a balanced diet by practicing portion control.

    • The human body needs fresh fruits and veggies most, so fill your plate with those first.
    • A simple way to control portion sizes is by eating from smaller plates. By decreasing the amount of space on your plate, you are automatically decreasing your portion sizes.
    • For an easy portioning tip, fill your plate as follows:
      • ½ your plate should contain fruits and veggies
      • ¼ your plate should contain whole grains, like brown rice or whole-wheat pasta
      • ¼ your plate should contain protein, like a lean meat or fish
    • Eating smaller, more frequent meals can help you stick to smaller portions.
  • Choose healthier fats

    Some types of fat are better for your heart health than others:

    • Limit saturated fat to 10 percent of your total daily calories. Saturated fat is found in dairy, meats, tropical oils and candy. Look for low-fat dairy and lean meats.
    • Eliminate trans fats (hydrogenated oils) as much as possible. These are found primarily in packaged commercial bakery items like muffins, cakes, cookies and pastries. If you want baked goods, use heart-healthy canola oil and make your own at home.
    • Mono and polyunsaturated fats are healthier for your heart. These are found in plant sources like nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil and canola oil.
    • Choose healthier fats when cooking. These include canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean and sunflower oils.
  • Snack smart

    Snacks can help keep your metabolism revved up between meals and keep your appetite in control. Avoid packaged foods high in salt and sugar; instead, choose fresh, whole foods. Smart options include:

    • Apples and natural peanut butter
    • Baby carrots with hummus
    • ¼ cup of dry roasted, unsalted almonds with a handful of grapes
    • One cup of plain low-fat yogurt with fresh berries
    • One slice of whole-grain bread with peanut butter and a sliced pear
  • Get active

    Exercise can improve your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, help manage stress, promote weight loss, and give you more energy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity, aerobic activity. Adults also should do muscle-strengthening activities that are moderate- or high-intensity and involve major muscle groups on two or more days a week.

    Ultimately, some exercise is better than none. Set an attainable goal—even 10 minutes of exercise—and reach for that. You can increase your time the stronger and more used to physical activity you get. Walking, cycling, swimming, tennis, strength training and yoga are options that can improve your heart health.

    If you need help planning an exercise program, your doctor can let you know which exercises are safe in your condition, and then set an appropriate and realistic goal for starting a new fitness program.

Schedule an appointment

From office visits to complex surgery, our cardiologists offer the region’s most trusted heart and vascular care.