Faheemullah Beg, M.D., is a practicing physician at Baptist Health Heart Institute/Arkansas Cardiology Clinic–Conway. He grew up in a small town in northern Pakistan and was interested in health care from an early age.
“We had minimal access to health care where I grew up,” he recalled. “Mostly when we saw a physician, it was during sickness, and those physician visits usually preceded wellness. So, I had a positive emotion related to this profession.”
Dr. Beg went to medical school, earning his medical degree from the Aga Khan University in Pakistan. When he got into medical school, he realized the heart, both the normal functioning of it and the diseases that affect it, fascinated him most. He credits two life-changing experiences that occurred during his final year of med school with helping solidify his decision to practice adult cardiology.
The first involved a stranger who suffered a near-fatal cardiac arrest and was admitted to the emergency room in the middle of the night. The medical team quickly performed life-saving procedures within an hour of the patient’s arrival to the ER and saved his life.
“I felt like this was my calling, and that's when I realized I wanted to be an adult cardiologist.”
The second experience affected Dr. Beg more personally and unfortunately had a different outcome. His father passed away from heart disease in December 2012, one month after his son graduated from medical school.
“That strengthened my resolve even further to become a cardiologist.”
Dr. Beg moved to the United States to pursue postgraduate medical training, completing his residency in Internal Medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. After finishing his residency, he undertook further training in cardiology at Houston Methodist in Texas. Dr. Beg completed his interventional cardiology training at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. He joined the team at Baptist Health Heart Institute/Arkansas Cardiology Clinic–Conway in the summer of 2021, and he and his family relocated to central Arkansas.
Heart Disease Risk Factors and Prevention
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, claiming the lives of more than 650,000 Americans each year. While a heart attack is the most common evidence of heart disease, there are a number of symptoms of heart disease that patients need to be aware of.
“If there is a blockage of your coronary arteries, the typical symptoms are chest pressure, pain in the jaw or arm, nausea, and vomiting,” Dr. Beg explained. “If you have rhythm-related issues, that will lead to palpations, a feeling that the heart is racing fast or skipping a beat, or heart fluttering.”
Dr. Beg said risk factors for heart disease are divided into modifiable risk factors – those conditions we have some level of control over – and non-modifiable risk factors, which comprise our genetic makeup, age, gender, or ethnicity.
Modifiable risk factors include diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, obesity, low levels of physical activity, and high levels of alcohol intake or tobacco use. Dr. Beg recommends people with these conditions prioritize annual health screenings with their primary care physicians, engage in regular physical activity, and eat a healthy diet.
“The one thing that I tell all my patients is that physical activity and healthy eating has a much bigger implication on our heart health than we recognize,” he said. “For example, 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity five times a week has a much higher positive effect on your blood pressure than any of the blood pressure medications available on the market right now.”
When it comes to healthy eating, Dr. Beg recommends consuming a diet that consists of at least two servings of fish per week, one or fewer servings of red meat per week, two servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit each day, and healthy fats found in nuts and extra virgin olive oil.
“I don't think there’s a perfect diet out there, but the Mediterranean diet is one diet that has been proven through clinical trials to reduce the risk of myocardial infarctions, heart attacks, and strokes.
“The sooner we work on these modifiable heart conditions, the higher the likelihood of a good, long-term outcome.”
Dr. Beg added that people with risk factors such as a family history of heart disease or high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or borderline diabetes diagnosis at an early age are ideal patients for preventative cardiology services at Baptist Health Heart Institute/Arkansas Cardiology Clinic–Conway.
“If you don’t have heart disease, we can still help you if you’re at risk of having heart disease,” Dr. Beg said. “If a family member experienced a heart attack or sudden cardiac death before the age of 50, we can identify if you have the medical condition before symptoms develop.”
Baptist Health Heart Institute/Arkansas Cardiology Clinic–Conway offers coronary artery calcium scoring, which is a low-dose CT scan that detects plaque in the blood vessels of the heart before symptoms occur. Plaque has to build up to about 70% in the blood vessels before patients start experiencing chest pain or other symptoms. The coronary artery calcium score detects plaque even at levels as low as 1% to 2% blockage.
For patients who are experiencing symptoms, Baptist Health Heart Institute/Arkansas Cardiology Clinic–Conway offers newer technology such as intravascular ultrasounds, which use sound waves to see inside blood vessels.
“These technologies help us make accurate diagnoses, and they help us decide, with higher confidence, which patient needs a stent.”
Dr. Beg invites his patients to take an active role in their care and not to be afraid to ask questions.
“A lot of patients tell me, “Well, doc, you’re the specialist, and I have full trust in you,’ and they take a passive role in their care. I encourage all my patients to ask four basic questions whenever I suggest any kind of treatment: ‘What is the treatment? Why are you prescribing that treatment? What is the alternative? What are the risks?’”
Dr. Beg said these questions not only help the patient understand what the risks and benefits of the treatment are but also involve the patient in the shared decision-making process, which leads to better patient adherence.
“Once you understand why that medicine has been prescribed or why the procedure has been advised, you tend to do it more frequently than if you don’t, hence leading to better outcomes.”
Dr. Faheemullah Beg is board-certified in Internal Medicine, Cardiology, Echocardiography, Vascular Ultrasound Interpretation, and Nuclear Cardiology. Additionally, he is board-eligible for Interventional Cardiology and Cardiac CT. He is the author of 10 peer-reviewed research articles and has presented at several national and international conferences. Dr. Beg has won several research and patient care-related awards during the course of his training.