Let’s have a heart-to-heart about your heart. Did you know that the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States is Heart Disease!? One in four deaths each year are caused by heart disease, an alarming statistic! If you have a family history of heart complications, the information can be sobering, but take note of the preventative measures and it could save your life or that of someone close. There are plenty of paths to a healthier heart. Let’s take a look at some of the main causes of heart disease, the symptoms, and what you can do to diminish heart risks.
What Is Heart Disease?
Heart disease doesn’t indicate a single condition, rather it’s an umbrella term that describes a range of conditions affecting the eponymous body organ. This umbrella harbors coronary artery disease, arrhythmias(heart rhythm issues), congenital heart defects(birth irregularities), among others. For some, lifestyle changes and modern medicine can make a significant difference in your heart health; other forms may require surgery.
What Causes Heart Disease?
As mentioned, heart disease includes many different conditions, similarly, the causes are just as varied. The most common of which, atherosclerosis, is a buildup of fatty plaques around the heart and blood vessels. The plaque that builds-up will thicken and stiffen the artery walls. This inhibits blood flow to your organs and tissues. Overall, atherosclerosis is the most common cause of cardiovascular disease. It can be caused by some correctable issues such as lack of exercise, being overweight, an unhealthy diet, and smoking to name a few.
What are the symptoms of Heart Disease?
Heart disease symptoms will depend on the type of heart disease. Many times, people are not diagnosed with heart disease until it’s too late. Recognizing the signs can save precious time, and your life. General symptoms include: pain, tightness, pressure, or discomfort of the chest; shortness of breath; pain, numbness, weakness or cold in your legs or arms; or pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen or back. Men are more likely to experience pain in the chest. Women are more likely to experience other symptoms along with chest discomfort, nausea, and extreme fatigue. It is important to be in tune with your body so you know when something is off. If you are ever experiencing any of these symptoms or anything else that doesn’t feel right, GET CHECKED OUT!!
My Grandfather didn’t believe in going to the doctor for “minor aches and pains,” he had a heart attack and was then diagnosed with congestive heart failure. His other major organs went into failure, and soon thereafter, he unfortunately passed-away. Moral of the story: know the symptoms, listen to your body, heed the warning signs, and get checked-out. I would rather you be safe than sorry.
How Is Heart Disease Treated?
Treatment consists of 3 main categories: lifestyle, pharmaceutical, & surgical.
Lifestyle Changes: Implement a healthy diet, stop smoking, lower alcohol intake, add 30 minutes of exercise per day into your schedule, etc.
Pharmaceutical: If lifestyle changes alone fail to correct the issue, medications may be prescribed. The type of medication will depend on the type of heart disease you have.
Surgery: Here again, the type of surgery you have would depend on the type of heart disease. Surgery would be recommended if the combination of lifestyle modifications and medications were not enough.
What are the Risk Factors?
High Blood Pressure
Diabetes OR Prediabetes
Being a smoker
Being overweight or obese
family history of heart disease
History of preeclampsia during pregnancy
An unhealthy diet
Age (55 and older for men and after menopause for woman is when risk greatly rises)
Can I Prevent Heart Disease?
The primary prevention factors against heart disease and heart complications include living a healthy lifestyle; not smoking, limiting alcohol intake; and incorporating a healthy diet with exercise! Heart disease can be prevented, and if you are already struggling with this disease, it can be improved! Below are a few more ways to help prevent or improve your risk factors!
Check your Cholesterol: this is a simple blood test that you should have drawn minimum of every 5 years. If you are outside the range, it may be more frequently drawn to monitor. Most people should aim for an LDL below 130 mg/dL.
Control your Blood Pressure: High blood pressure puts you at higher risk for developing heart disease. The optimal blood pressure is less than 120 (systolic) over 80 (diastolic).
Control your Diabetes: You are already at a higher risk of developing heart disease if you have diabetes. Be sure to keep your blood sugar controlled.
Manage your Stress: It is true that stress in the U.S. is at an all time high, but try to reduce life tension as much as possible. Stress significantly elevates your risk! Take a yoga class, practice breathing techniques and muscle relaxation. Anything that helps you lessen the stress in your life.
Maintain a healthy Weight: If you are overweight your risk of heart disease is elevated. Aim to have a BMI of less than 25.
Handle Depression: Being depressed can increase your risk of heart disease quite a bit. Talk with your doctor and get help.
Exercise: In my book, this is the most important. Exercise helps you control diabetes, reduce elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure. It helps you maintain a healthy weight, relieve stress, and may help your depression! Exercise is the all in one package!
Heart Disease isn’t something to be taken lightly. Don’t be one of the many who neglect their health till problems arise – do something now! If you’re reading this blog, you’re likely a health-conscious person. Being active alone though, is just one factor to reduce your risk. Take a self assessment; how is your stress level? Are you eating healthy more often than not? Are you dealing with any depression? Are you at a healthy weight (BMI below 25)? do you have diabetes? Have you ever been diagnosed with high cholesterol or high blood pressure? – Have you had them checked lately? Are you getting your yearly physical? If you suspect you may be at risk, get checked out immediately! If you suspect a friend or family member may be, talk to them. It may be uncomfortable and hard, but it will be more difficult later knowing you could have done more to help prevent progression of the disease! February is Heart Disease Awareness Month! Make this month a time to become healthier and lower your risk! Your heart will thank you!
Editor: Jason Quarford