February 10, 2023

American Heart Month with Dr. Tochukwu Okwuosa, DO

February is American Heart Month. CommunityHealth advocates heart-healthy living year-round. Heart disease is considered the number one cause of death in the United States. American Heart Month addresses the risk factors and celebrates daily habits that strengthen both heart health and happiness.

We spoke to CommunityHealth volunteer and RUSH University Medical Center cardiologist, Dr. Tochukwu (Tochi) Okwuosa, DO, to learn more about living a heart-healthy life…


What is heart health?

The typical healthy heart can complete daily tasks without noticeable strain, such as walking up a flight of stairs and not losing your breath. Chest pain, swelling of legs, unexplained fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness, fainting spells, and shiny skin with little hair and/or discoloration of legs may be signs of heart disease. However, it is important to recognize that some people living with heart disease do not experience these symptoms.


Who is at-risk for heart disease?

Risk factors for heart disease include but are not limited to: sleep apnea, obesity, family history of heart disease, smoking cigarettes, high blood pressure, and Diabetes. Dr. Okwuosa emphasizes that age is the largest contributor to heart disease for those at-risk. Individuals with a personal/family history of risk factors should regularly monitor their blood pressure (with a normal rate being in the range of 120/80). She also highlights that African Americans are more likely to experience hypertension/high blood pressure than white adults. Please note that certain conditions may present as heart disease but may be attributed to other conditions, such as panic attacks.


What are things people can do everyday to take care of their heart?

Although lifestyle patterns ultimately define heart health, such as aerobic exercise or a Mediterranean diet, wellness stems from the choices we make every day. Dr. Okwuosa advises her patients to incorporate heart health into their daily living, to make heart-healthy habits easy and enjoyable. For example, at-risk individuals and heart-healthy people alike can choose a rejuvenating walk to work rather than driving or can learn a new recipe with friends instead of catching up over drinks.

Heart-healthy diets are rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish. Dr. Okwuosa also suggests limiting red meat, fried foods, and processed sweets. Although she advises her patients to quit smoking and to reduce sugars and carbohydrates, she also understands that “if you completely deprive yourself of certain things, it is difficult to maintain.” So rather than making unhealthy habits a routine, she suggests to make them a treat. Beyond diet, exercise, and lifestyle choices, Dr. Okwuosa emphasizes that a nourishing sleep schedule is important for overall well-being.


What can a patient expect for their first appointment with a cardiologist?

If you have been referred to a cardiologist for your first time, Dr. Okwuosa recommends that you write down your medical history and any questions you have before your appointment. On your first cardiology appointment at CommunityHealth, you can expect to have: your vitals checked, an EKG and/or echo administered, and lab testing conducted. Through your blood screenings, the doctor will examine cholesterol levels, kidney function, thyroid balances, electrolyte measures, and A1C for Diabetes analysis. Patients should expect to be asked about their personal/family health history, their lifestyle (such as drinking, smoking, and/or drug use), any symptoms they may be experiencing, and other risk factor indications.


Whether you are experiencing symptoms of heart disease or if risk factors run in your family history, Dr. Okwuosa acknowledges we can all benefit from a heart-healthy life because “we all need a heart to live.”


“Nobody can live without a heart.” With over 80 hours of compassionate service, Dr. Tochukwu Okwuosa has volunteered with CommunityHealth since 2019.


For more resources on heart health, please visit the American Heart Association.

To schedule an appointment with our volunteer cardiologists, plan a visit to CommunityHealth today.

Follow our CommunityHealth Fitness Page on Facebook for Health Education about living with Diabetes.