Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. The good news is, since the early 1960s, the number of deaths from heart disease has dropped by half; the bad news is heart disease continues to be the number one killer in the United States among women and men. The month of February is dedicated to raising awareness about heart disease and prevention.
Along with innovation in treatment, we have discovered that heart disease can, in part, be prevented or significantly delayed with regular exercise, a balanced diet low in animal fats, and high in succulent fruits, fresh vegetables, fish, healthy fats and whole grains. In addition, it is also important to live tobacco free, maintain a healthy body weight, keep blood pressure and blood sugars under control, and avoid chronic stress.
However, research finds that even the most health conscious person may not be able to overcome an inherited risk for heart disease. This and other factors are known to increase an individual’s risk for developing heart disease. The more risk factors, the greater the risk for developing disease. While some risk factors such as age and family history cannot be modified, many other factors can be eliminated, reduced or medically controlled. If you have any of the following risk factors, ask your primary care physician what you can do to make heart-healthy changes in your life:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Poor diet
- Tobacco use
- Physical inactivity
- Family history of heart disease
- Disease in other arteries in your body
- Chronic stress
For certain problems involving the heart and blood vessels, your primary care physician may be able to manage your care. Examples include treating high blood pressure, controlling blood glucose and cholesterol and helping you lose a few pounds, stopping smoking and exercising more. But if heart problems are more complicated or if an abnormality presents, your primary care physician will likely refer you to a cardiologist for further testing and/or treatment.
The body usually gives warning signs when something is wrong with your heart. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, consult with your doctor, immediately if it occurs suddenly:
- Chest pain or discomfort (often, but not always like “an elephant sitting on your chest”), especially if accompanied by arm, jaw or back pain
- Nausea, excessive fatigue, arm numbness or tingling with exertion may indicate heart disease in some, especially women, diabetics and the elderly
- Abnormal heartbeats, fluttering, racing or slow
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling of legs, ankles or feet
- Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting
- Leg pain with walking
If you are concerned about your risk for developing heart disease, have a family history of heart disease or if you have experienced symptoms, talk to your primary care physician. There is a broad range of treatment options available that can change the course of heart disease and significantly enhance your quality of life.