Heart disease is considered one of the common causes of death in the United States averaging at about 1 in 4 deaths. Heart diseases can affect individuals of any age and are now happening to younger adults also. And, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, half of all Americans at least have one risk factor for the heart disease. But, the good news is that heart diseases can often be prevented by making healthy lifestyle choices.

February is the heart month, a perfect time to learn about the risk of heart problems and the steps that can be taken to help the heart. It is also the time when hospitals, schools and health departments offer educational material to their local communities to encourage heart health awareness and heart disease prevention. There is a lot that can be done to prevent heart disease and it can begin by working together with the family, neighbors and coworkers to meet the heart health goal.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) have launched a national initiative to encourage and motivate individuals to adopt healthy lifestyles and for those interested in getting involved, here is the link.

 Understanding Coronary Heart Disease

Coronary Heart Disease can develop when the plaque accumulates inside the coronary arteries resulting in atherosclerosis. This can take several years and over time, the plaque can rupture or harden. When it ruptures, blood clot can develop in the surface which can block the blood flow through the coronary artery. The hardened plaque can narrow the arteries thereby reducing the flow of blood to the heart. When the flow of oxygen-rich blood is reduced, it can result in a heart attack or angina. Over time, coronary heart disease can weaken the heart muscle and can result in heart failure.

Knowing the Warning Signs of a Heart Attack

Most of the heart attack can happen slowly although it can also occur suddenly, therefore it is important to pay attention and call 911 if you experience;

  • Chest discomfort that can occur in the center of the chest lasting for a few minutes and can feel like pain or fullness, uncomfortable pressure and squeezing.
  • Discomfort in other parts of the body such as one or both the arms, neck, jaw, back or the stomach.
  • Shortness of breath which can happen either with or without the chest discomfort.
  • Cold sweat, nausea or light headedness.

 Risk Factors of Developing Heart Disease

  • High blood pressure: Millions of Americans have high blood pressure and around half of them do not have it under control which is one of the biggest risk factors for heart problems including a stroke. Around half of the people with untreated hypertension die from heart disease because of poor blood flow and stroke. High blood pressure can increase the pressure of blood flowing through the arteries causing aneurysm which can develop in any of the arteries and can potentially rupture resulting in life-threatening internal bleeding.
  • Smoking: There are millions of Americans who are current smokers. It lowers the amount of oxygen in the blood and therefore damages the blood vessel walls. Also, as it increases the stiffness of the blood vessels, it can make it difficult for them to work effectively resulting in a heart attack, stroke or angina.
  • Obesity: Current research suggests that 1 in 3 Americans are obese and this extra weight tends to stress the heart which increases the risk for cardiovascular disease. However, even a small decrease in weight can help lower the risk of developing heart disease.
  • High Blood Cholesterol: Fatty deposits could develop in the blood vessels with high cholesterol which makes it difficult for sufficient blood to flow through the arteries. Therefore, the heart may not receive enough oxygen-rich blood required increasing the risk of developing a heart attack. High cholesterol often doesn’t present any symptoms and individuals are not aware they are at risk of developing heart disease. Managing cholesterol young in life is important in reducing the risk of heart disease.
  • Diabetes: When too much glucose accumulates in the blood, it can affect the blood vessels and the nerves increasing the risk of developing heart attack and stroke. It is estimated that adults with diabetes are twice likely to develop heart disease than those without diabetes, but, management of diabetes help lower this risk factor. To help with the management of diabetes, ABCs can prevent the development of heart disease. A is for A1C test which shows the average blood glucose level for the past 3 months and the goal of most people with diabetes is to come down to below 7 percent. B is for the blood pressure and the goal of individuals with diabetes is below 140/90mm Hg.  C is for cholesterol, LDL can clog the blood vessels and therefore people over the age of 40 may need to take medications to lower the cholesterol. S is to stop smoking as both smoking and diabetes can narrow the blood vessels.
  • Physical Inactivity: Physical inactivity is considered an important risk factor for developing coronary heart disease. It can also contribute to high cholesterol, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. It helps keep the heart active and the physical activity guideline is that an individual should get around 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise. Being involved in structured exercise can not only improve the health of the blood vessels but the overall health of the individual.
  • Unhealthy Eating habits: Most Americans, including children consume excess sodium which increases blood pressure. The intake of fruits and vegetables helps lower blood pressure. Also, accommodating added sugar in the diet further increases an individual’s risk for heart disease.
  • Stress: Anxiety and stress tend to play a major role in the Coronary Heart Disease by triggering the arteries to tighten thereby increasing the blood pressure. For instance, a heart attack is one of the common conditions triggered by an emotional event such as anger.