A graduate of Harvard Medical School, Dr. Thomas Tu schools us on the importance of maintaining heart-healthy lifestyles, things to avoid and how to mend a “broken heart” during this Valentine’s season.
Tu is in private practice at Louisville Cardiology where he serves as the medical director of Cardiac Catheterization. He is currently participating in more than 20 clinical research protocols, yet he still made time to talk with The Voice-Tribune.
Are you from Louisville?
I moved to Louisville eight years ago. I ended up here because of the need for good cardiologists in this area. There’s a lot of heart disease in Kentucky, and it is a privilege to care for the patients of this state.
What about the heart made you decide to become a cardiologist?
The heart is one of the few essential organs that you just cannot live without – even for just a few moments. It’s an amazing little organ that starts beating before birth and keeps beating throughout our entire life until our very last moment, and it usually does so without missing a beat.
If there is a problem however, people get very sick – very quickly. Unlike many health conditions though, we have a lot of treatments, for heart disease. While people can still die from heart attacks and heart disease, there are a lot of things we can do. There are preventative therapies and rehabilitation; there are medicines that are phenomenal at reducing heart disease; there are non-surgical procedures where we can help restore circulation; and then there are heart surgeries.
There are so many different things we can do to improve heart disease that I’m very optimistic about patients with heart disease, and I’m very proud to be able to take care of them.
What is your specialty?
I practice general cardiology, so I take care of heart patients with any manner of heart ailments. I also specialize in interventional cardiology, which means I do procedures inside heart and blood vessels.
What is the most “broken heart” you’ve ever repaired?
There is a condition called “broken heart syndrome,” which is known by a Japanese word called “Tako Tfubo” syndrome. It is basically a heart attack that is not caused by blockages or blood clots, but almost always caused by great emotional distress, death of a loved one, intense physical pain etc.
We see this very commonly – it is a real heart attack with, actual damage done to the heart. It has heart attack symptoms: chest pain, trouble breathing. When we go in and investigate, the heart arteries are just fine, so it is purely a result of stress created in times of emotional and physical pain.
Can you worry yourself into a heart attack? Yes, absolutely. People can die from this condition though most can recover completely.
What are some tips to keep our “hearts from breaking” and to stay heart healthy?
There is a lot of evidence to tell us exactly how to take good care of our hearts:
1. Avoid smoking. That is a huge risk factor for heart vascular disease even if you smoke,, if you quit smoking we can show your risk of heart disease greatly reduced.
2. Avoid diabetes. There are ways to avoid diabetes. Most have it as a result of diet, lack of exercise and obesity. Following a, healthy diet, modest portion sizes and exercising at least three times a week for up to 45 minutes can, reduce our risk of both heart disease and diabetes.
3. Choose our parents carefully. Obviously, we cannot choose our parents, but genetics also plays a big role in maintaining a healthy heart. Genetics can increase our risk of heart disease despite what we do. In the future, we may have therapies for that, but right now, we don’t.
I also recommend people to be observant of heart disease and symptoms. Not all heart disease presents like it does in the movies with a man clutching his chest. Some symptoms of heart disease are very subtle.
In women, the symptoms can be as subtle as having a, little trouble with fatigue or breathing. It does not have to cause pain in the chest. Sometimes pain is located in the jaw, shoulder or arm, and sometimes there is no pain at all. So if there’s any doubt, I’d see a doctor, and if the doctor thinks a cardiologist visit is warranted, I would take that very seriously.
What is your favorite fact about the heart?
There are a lot of things I find fascinating about the heart. Like I said, it starts beating even before birth and continues throughout our life – it’s just an amazing organ. I also think it’s amazing we can manipulate the heart. We can do procedures on the heart, we can replace things inside the heart, replace heart valves open arteries and close holes all in a conscious patient.
Besides healing hearts, what are some of your other interests?
Taking care of heart patients is more than a full-time job. We respond to emergencies, so we come in the middle of the night. Basically close family and work are my major interests. I do a lot of charity work both local and internationally.
What will your Valentine’s Day plans be this year?
I hope to spend Valentine’s Day with loved ones. But that is going to depend on how many “broken hearts” come in that day. The busiest times for us are days when it snows. When people go out and shovel and there is heightened physical activity, we tend to see heart attack patients. So let’s hope it doesn’t snow.
Category: The Spotlight
About the Author (Author Profile)
Voice-Tribune Staff Writer Lauren DePaso enjoys being a tourist in her own city, exploring the nightlife and cheering on the Cards. A Louisville native, she currently resides in St. Matthews.