Are you at risk for heart disease? If you are a woman over 55 or a man over 45, you could be. If your father or brother had heart disease before age 55, or your mother or sister had heart disease before age 65, your risk could be higher.
We’re giving you a little tough love here, because heart disease is responsible for one in every four deaths in the United States. It’s the leading cause of death for both men and women, and during February, Heart Month, the American Heart Association urges everyone to learn more about heart disease and how you can lower your risk of a heart attack.
The most common type of heart disease occurs when the coronary arteries that carry blood to the heart become narrowed or blocked with cholesterol and a fatty material called plaque. This nasty stuff is produced when blood fat and cholesterol are deposited on the artery walls. Contributing factors are high blood pressure and smoking, which narrow the arteries, and too much sugar in your blood.
When blood flow to the heart is blocked, uh oh! A heart attack can happen.
Even if you’re in a high-risk group, there are things you can do to prevent coronary artery disease. First, take a look at your lifestyle and talk with your doctor about lowering your risk. Then, make sure you know the symptoms of a heart attack. Calling 9-1-1 at the first signs that you or someone else is having a heart attack increases the chance of survival.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to prevent heart disease. The American Heart Association urges you to:
- Eat healthy and get active. A heart-healthy diet includes lots of veggies and fruits and not much red meat or sugary foods and beverages, and low sodium.
- Watch your weight. Carrying extra weight around your waist can increase your risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Physical activity improves blood pressure, lowers your risk for diabetes and helps reduce stress. The accepted guideline is 2½ hours a week of moderate aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise. Be sure and check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise regimen if you’ve been inactive.
- Quit smoking. Now. There are programs and products that can help you quit. Talk to your doctor and consider joining a support group. It’s not easy, but you can do it!
- Control your cholesterol and blood pressure.
- Drink alcohol only in moderation. Alcohol can raise blood pressure and bad blood fats, and may cause weight gain.
- Manage stress. Healthy stress-reducing activities include meditation, physical activity and relaxation therapy.
The most common warning signs of a heart attack include these, which can occur alone or in combination:
- Chest pain or discomfort in the center or left side of the chest. It can be mild or severe and can feel like pressure or squeezing.
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, shoulders, neck, jaw or upper stomach.
- Shortness of breath.
- Breaking out in a cold sweat.
- Unusual fatigue that lasts for days, especially for women
- Light headedness or sudden dizziness
- Nausea and vomiting
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, these symptoms can hit you suddenly or can develop over hours, days or even weeks after a heart attack. The best thing you can do is to call 9-1-1 as soon as you think you might be having a heart attack. Every minute counts; the longer you wait, the more extensive the damage to your heart can become.
So please, work with your doctor to modify your lifestyle if you need to, and encourage your spouse to do the same. Know the warning signs of a heart attack, and call 9-1-1 if you think you or someone near you might be having one. Visit www.heart.org for lots more information on how to love your heart.