February 4, 2021
February is American Heart Month! It isn’t too late to make a new year’s resolution to take charge of your cardiovascular health—heart disease is one of the deadliest, and yet most common, health issues facing Americans today. The good news, however, is that you can detect it early with proactive monitoring of risk factors and even prevent it by adopting a few healthy habits.
“Heart disease” actually refers to many different types of heart conditions related to cardiovascular health and function, including:
The most common variety of heart disease in the United States is coronary artery disease, or CAD, caused by plaque buildup in the walls of the arteries that supply blood to the heart. This buildup causes the artery walls to narrow over time, blocking the amount of blood supplied to the heart. Other kinds of heart disease also present difficulty with heart valves or inefficient pumping of blood to the heart.
More than 600,000 people in the United States die from heart disease every year — that’s one in four American deaths, and one victim every 36 seconds. It’s the leading cause of death in the United States across gender and racial lines.
Some people are born with the condition, but high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and smoking are three significant risk factors that apply to 47% of Americans. An unhealthy diet rich in saturated fats, sodium and cholesterol also increase the risk for heart disease, as can excessive alcohol use and pre-existing conditions like diabetes. Women experiencing hypertension during pregnancy and delivery may be at a greater risk for developing heart disease later in life as well.
Heart disease can be “silent,” meaning it’s possible you have it even if you don’t show any symptoms. You may not receive a diagnosis until something severe happens, so it’s important to discuss heart health with your doctor if any of these risk factors sound relevant to you. Symptoms vary depending on the type of heart disease a patient has, but chest discomfort or a heart attack could be among the first signs. A heart attack, which happens when part of the heart muscle doesn’t receive enough blood, may feel like:
These symptoms differ between men and women. Women are more likely to experience nausea, vomiting and fatigue along with these sharp chest pains and other discomfort in the upper body. Men are more at risk for heart disease overall, but the risk for women increases after menopause.
The more time that passes after a heart attack without treatment to restore blood flow, the greater the damage to the heart muscle. Early detection is key to recovery. Heart attacks differ from heart failure, a condition where the heart can’t pump enough blood or oxygen to support the function of other organs in your body.
High cholesterol and high blood pressure may be two major risk factors for heart disease, but they can be managed with diet and exercise, along with a few of these steps:
See a doctor immediately if you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or fainting — any of these symptoms could be a sign of heart disease.
The doctor’s office isn’t the only place where you can monitor your risk factors for heart disease. Plenty of technology places your health information at your fingertips.
Happy American Heart Month from Riverside Medical Clinic, and as always, reach out to your doctor if you think you or a loved one may be at risk for heart disease.