Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. The most common type is coronary heart disease. Risk factors include high cholesterol, being overweight, and high blood pressure. It usually takes years for symptoms to appear; in many cases, the first symptom is usually a sudden heart attack. While there is no cure, the condition often can be treated through lifestyle changes (such as losing weight, quitting smoking, lowering the daily sodium intake,) and possibly taking medication.
The coronary arteries are blood vessels that carry blood and oxygen to the heart muscle. When these arteries become clogged with fatty deposits called plaque, it’s called coronary artery disease, coronary heart disease, or just heart disease. Clogged arteries can keep the heart from getting enough blood and oxygen, and can cause chest pain (angina). If a blood clot forms, it can suddenly cut off blood flow in the artery and cause a heart attack.
Plaque forms in the arteries over many years in a process called atherosclerosis. One cause of plaque in the arteries is too much cholesterol in the blood. As plaque builds up, the artery gradually narrows and becomes clogged. The artery can also become less elastic, which is often referred to as “hardening of the arteries”.
Although risk factors are not actual causes of heart disease, they do increase a person’s chances of developing it, including:
- Age (being a man 45 years or older, or a woman 55 or older)
- Being male
- Having high cholesterol levels, also known as hypercholesterolemia
- Having high blood pressure, also known as hypertension
- Having diabetes
- Being overweight or obese
- Not exercising
- Having close relatives with heart disease at younger ages (diagnosed before age 55 in a father or brother; diagnosed before age 65 in a mother or sister).
Steps for effective heart disease prevention include:
- Knowing your risk factors
- Monitoring your health
- Knowing your family history
- Making lifestyle changes and becoming more active
- Making diet changes including more fruits and vegetables and lowering your daily sodium intake
- Possibly taking medication
Important lifestyle changes include:
- Increasing activity
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Eating a well-balanced, heart-healthy and low sodium diet
- Monitoring blood pressure and cholesterol
- Preventing or managing diabetes
- Not smoking
Don’t make it too hard to start doing something to help your heart. If you do, then you probably won’t change or do anything or stick with the changes. You can start with these 2 steps:
- Make better, healthy food choices about what you eat especially choosing to consume less salt and sugar and increasing fruits and vegetables. You can start by adding a salad or a smoothie to your daily diet.
- Stay active. You can simply start by walking more. Park your car farther away from the door. Learn breathing techniques like yoga, as deep breathing helps get oxygen to the lungs and to the heart.
Decide to start making some healthy lifestyle changes today. Small changes and making better choices will help your heart and can increase your chances of improving, possibly reversing, or preventing heart disease.