Celebrating American Heart Month—Making Heart Healthy Choices in 2013

By: Janelle Derbis, PharmD

Each year, nearly half of all Americans make New Year’s resolutions. They often include losing weight, starting an exercise program, quitting smoking, and making healthier food choices—all of which contribute to a heart-healthy lifestyle. February is American Heart Month, and the timing couldn’t be better to make these lifestyle changes, especially since heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.

FDA joins in the commemoration of American Heart Month by highlighting agency initiatives to help Americans reduce their risk of heart disease.

Achieve a healthy weight. Obesity contributes to a number of health conditions, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol. To help obese and overweight Americans who have been unsuccessful in getting their weight under control with diet and exercise alone, FDA approved two long-term weight management medications in 2012—Belviq and Qsymia. These are the first medications the agency has approved for the treatment of chronic weight management in 13 years.

Quit smoking. Smoking and tobacco use contribute to many health hazards, including heart disease. Nearly half of adult Americans are at risk for heart disease and stroke, and over 20% are at risk due to cigarette smoking. To address the huge public health problem of tobacco use, FDA is building a national tobacco product regulation program to reduce the impact of tobacco use on the nation’s health. Using powerful new regulatory tools provided by the law, FDA’s work supports the objective of the Department of Health and Human Services to end the epidemic of tobacco-related death and disease in America. In November 2012, HHS announced the availability of a new comprehensive tobacco website, BeTobaccoFree.gov, a providing one-stop access to the best and most up-to-date tobacco-related information from across its agencies. This consolidated resource includes general information on tobacco, federal and state laws and policies, health statistics, and evidence-based methods on how to quit.

Eat right. Consumers can eat for a healthy heart and choose foods that are lower in salt, cholesterol, and trans-fat by reading the Nutrition Facts label on food and beverage packages.  In January 2013, the agency announced it is planning to update the Nutrition Facts label based on the latest science-based nutrition recommendations. The updates are still being formulated, and public input will be sought when they are proposed.

Lower cholesterol levels.  Making lifestyle modifications can help reduce cholesterol levels. However, hereditary issues can make some people more likely to have high cholesterol levels regardless of diet and exercise. The good news is there are treatment options for people who are unable to lower their cholesterol levels. There are several FDA-approved cholesterol lowering medications on the U.S. market.

In December 2012, FDA approved Juxtapid for a rare cholesterol disorder called homozygous familial hypercholesterolemia (HoFH), an inherited condition that makes the body unable to remove the “bad” cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) from the blood, which  can lead to heart attacks and death before age 30. The approval of Juxtapid is an example of how FDA provides the scientific and regulatory advice needed to bring new treatment options to market.

Control high blood pressure.  Adopting a healthy lifestyle can help prevent high blood pressure. If lifestyle modifications are not enough to lower your blood pressure so that it is within the normal limit (less than 120 over 80), medications are often prescribed. There are many FDA-approved medications to treat high blood pressure so talk with your health care provider to determine which is best for you.

In April 2012, FDA approved the first generic versions of Avapro (Irbesartan) and Avalide (Irbesartan and Hydrochlorothiazide) for the treatment of high blood pressure.  Generic drugs such as these provide safe and effective alternatives to brand-name drugs. 

Exercise. And lastly, physical activity is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle and when done in combination with healthy eating can help prevent heart disease. In 2013, make a commitment to exercising on a routine basis and keep your heart strong!

To receive up-to-date information on heart-related drug and device approvals, safety announcements, and notices of upcoming meetings, subscribe to FDA’s CardioBeat or visit FDA’s cardiovascular webpage.

Janelle Derbis, PharmD, co-manages the Cardiovascular and Endocrine Liaison Program (CELP), at FDA’s Office of Special Health Issues.