Behind the Coat – Courtland Blount, MD.

Courtland Blount, MD. headshot

Behind the Coat

Courtland Blount, MD, MS, is a cardiology fellow in Indianapolis. For American Heart Month, we asked him about how the heart works, what causes heart disease, and what Hoosiers can do to keep their hearts healthy.  Thanks to Advisory Board member Chanda Allen for her contributions to this interview.

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Dr. Courtland Blount. I am a board-certified internal medicine physician, currently pursuing a three-year Cardiovascular Fellowship at Indiana University School of Medicine. I am in my third and last year of my fellowship. After graduation this June, I will be a non-invasive cardiologist with a focus in preventative health and advance imaging via coronary CT.

Why are you interested in cardiology? 

Cardiovascular diseases plague such a significant percentage of the US population and countless research shows the detrimental impact it has on underserved populations. Being raised in such a community growing up, a career in cardiology has provided me an opportunity to take my talents and treat individuals suffering from these diseases in hopes of providing a better quality of life.

As a physician, there are a plethora of ways to make a positive impact in these communities, simply due to the complexity of the specialty.

Fortunately for me, I have received some amazing training here at IU School of Medicine, as the institution has such a diverse set of cardiovascular subspecialties for me to learn from and harness my skills.

In simple terms, how does each part of the heart function (walls, chambers, valves, blood vessels, and electrical conduction system)?  

There are two sides to the heart—left and right. Each side has two compartments or chambers. The top chamber is called an atrium; and the lower chamber is called a ventricle. Between each chamber, a valve allows blood to move from the top chamber to the bottom chamber. If a chamber is considered a room, the valve is like the door. There are two additional doors, or valves: one that takes blood from the right lower chamber (or ventricle) of the heart to the lungs, where the blood receives oxygen, and then goes into the left side of the heart. After leaving the left lower chamber (ventricle), the oxygenated blood supplies the rest of the body through a major artery called the aorta.

Heart Disease is the leading cause of death (visit site), but it can be prevented through lifestyle changes and routine doctor visits. Is this accurate? 

For the most part, yes. A healthy diet and an active lifestyle can play a major role in improving your cardiovascular health and preventing one from living with these diseases. It is important to keep in account that genetics, family history, and ethnicity can also play a role in these diseases as well.

What are common myths about heart disease that the public should be made aware of? 

“Only old people get heart attacks.”

I have seen individuals—sick individuals—of all ages come into my clinic. Age is not the only factor in cardiovascular health, but also diet, exercise, family history, and genetics.

“If I am having chest pain, I’m having a heart attack.”

I have learned through my medical training that there are many causes of chest pain. Some are included in the realm of cardiovascular disease, but these pains can also be respiratory, gastrointestinal, oncological, psychological, or even musculoskeletal. It is our job in the cardiology department to determine whether chest pain is a heart or vascular-related disease, and how emergently should we treat it.

What causes plaque buildup in the arteries? 

The leading cause of plaque build-up in arteries is atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a complex, progressive condition characterized by the accumulation of fatty deposits, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium, and other substances on the inner walls of arteries. Over time, these deposits form plaques that can narrow and harden the arteries, restricting blood flow.

The primary factors contributing to the development of atherosclerosis and plaque build-up include:

High levels of LDL cholesterol: LDL cholesterol is often referred to as “bad” cholesterol because, in excess, it can deposit cholesterol in the arterial walls.

Unhealthy diet: Diets high in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol contribute to elevated LDL cholesterol levels and the development of atherosclerosis.

High blood pressure (hypertension): Elevated blood pressure puts stress on the arterial walls, making them more prone to damage and thus more likely to accumulate plaque.

Diabetes: High blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels and contribute to plaque formation.

Lack of physical activity: Sedentary lifestyles can contribute to obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and unhealthy lipid profiles mentioned above (increase LDL), all of which are risk factors for atherosclerosis. The combination of these factors contributes to the initiation and progression of plaque build-up in the arteries.

Smoking: Tobacco smoke contains chemicals that can damage the inner lining of arteries, promoting inflammation, leading to atherosclerosis.

Genetic factors: Genetic factors can influence cholesterol levels and how the body processes and transports lipids.

Age and gender:  Aging is a risk factor for atherosclerosis, and men tend to be at higher risk. However, the risk for women increases after menopause.

What is soft plaque and how is this dangerous to the heart arteries? 

Soft plaque refers to the early stage of atherosclerosis. Unlike stable or calcified plaque, soft plaque is considered less stable and more prone to rupture. This characteristic makes it particularly dangerous to the arteries and can lead to serious cardiovascular events.

Preventing the progression of atherosclerosis and the development of soft plaque involves maintaining heart-healthy lifestyle to help mitigate risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Are there any preventive medications for plaque buildup? If so, which ones have been known to be most effective? 

Physicians can prescribe one or a combination of different medications that help patient manage their plaque burden and reduce the risk of cardiovascular events associated with atherosclerosis. It is important for me to mention that the use of these medications should be appropriately approved by a health professional before starting, as the use and effectiveness of these medications depend on multiple different individuals’ health factors.

What is Hearty Conversation? 

Hearty Conversations (visit site) is an organization that I created in 2023 that serves two purposes. One is to provide the general population with a basic understanding of medicine, specifically cardiovascular diseases, in a simple and accessible way. I do this with in-person and virtual seminars or events, but I am actually able to reach a more substantial crowd via social media (visit Instagram here).

The second is through empowering medical students. I learned very quickly in my career how tedious and difficult this medical training journey is, especially as a Black medical professional. Therefore, in order to strengthen the medical community and the representation of minorities within the field, it is critical to pivot to reach back out and help someone else as they make their way through their own journey. Hearty Conversations provides networking and mentorships opportunities to medical students. It also gives them real-world exposure to residency through multi-specialty panels, where residents shed light on their day-to-day lives as trainees and on what it took for them to matriculate from medical school and get where they are now—an invaluable resource.

The All IN for Health team wishes Hoosiers a helpful and informative American Heart Month—and a happy Valentine’s Day! To see more highlights like this one, follow our social media and be IN-volved!

Join the All IN for Health Research Volunteer Network!

You will learn about the thousands of health research studies being done in Indiana, and get an email notification when a study opens that fits your interests. You will also be contributing to a better understanding of different diseases and conditions, how they affect each of us, and how we can best provide health care and live well.