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Risks of Heart Disease and How to Prevent it


February is American Heart Month, a month dedicated to educating Americans on heart disease and encouraging those to join the battle against it. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, so it is important for people of all ages to learn more about this common disease.


A small chalkboard with the words "Heart Disease" written across it with a red stethoscope laying on it.

Heart disease, sometimes referred to as cardiovascular disease because it affects the heart and blood vessels, refers to multiple heart conditions. The most common type of heart disease in the US is coronary artery disease (CAD) which can cause a heart attack due to its effect on the heart’s blood flow.


According to the CDC, “about 695,000 people in the United States died from heart disease in 2021” which is 1 in every 5 deaths.


Continue reading to learn more about heart disease, its symptoms, risks, tips, treatments, prevention, and when to see your doctor.

 

Heart Disease Symptoms

Heart Disease can sometimes remain hidden or go undiagnosed until a person shows signs or symptoms of a heart attack, arrhythmia, or heart failure.


When experiencing a heart attack, one might feel pain or discomfort in the chest, upper back or neck, and upper body. Symptoms also include nausea, heartburn, indigestion, vomiting, dizziness, shortness of breath, and extreme fatigue.


Arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeats, feels like flutters in the chest.


Heart failure has similar symptoms to a heart attack like shortness of breath and fatigue, but it is characterized by swelling in the feet, ankles, legs, abdomen, or veins in the neck.


Key Risks of Heart Disease

A few of the risks of heart disease are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. The CDC says, “[47% of people in the United States] have at least one of these three risk factors.” A few other risk factors for heart disease are: diabetes, overweight/obesity, unhealthy eating, lack of exercise, and drinking too much alcohol.

 

Know the Five Numbers Linked to Heart Health

Johns Hopkins lists the following numbers as important metrics to keep track of regarding your heart health:

  1. Steps per day: Remaining active is a great way to help prevent heart disease. It is generally recommended for adults to spend 2.5 hours a week doing some sort of exercise. This can include things like brisk walking, water aerobics, dancing, bike riding, etc.

  2. Blood pressure: Your BP is a measure of the force your heart uses to pump blood to the rest of your body. A high blood pressure, called hypertension, can only be found through measurement. 120/80 is the optimal BP, but 140/90 is normal for most people.

  3. non-HDL cholesterol: This is found by subtracting your HDL cholesterol from your total cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is a measure of fats in the arteries that can cause clogs and narrow the way to the heart. Measurements lower than 130 mg/dL are optimal, but those at a higher risk of heart disease should be at 70-100 mg/dL.

  4. Blood sugar: High blood sugar is linked to type 1 and type 2 diabetes which are one of the biggest risks for heart disease. Before eating, you should aim for 80 to 130 mg/dL. Two hours post eating a meal, less than 180 mg/dL is optimal.

  5. Hours of sleep: The correct number of hours of sleep per night changes depending on the person. However, it is important to get consistent sleep each night (6 to 8 hours normally).

 

How to Prevent Heart Disease

Rows of fruits and vegetables on a table in heart shaped bowls.

Making healthier choices and lifestyle changes can greatly lessen your risks of heart disease. These choices can be eating healthier foods that are low in trans-fat, saturated fat, and sodium and high in fiber. Also, switching processed foods for fruits and veggies helps.


If you smoke or vape, talk to your doctor about easy ways to stop as this also decreases your risk for heart disease. If you don’t smoke or vape, don’t start.


Maintaining a healthy weight through daily exercise is another way to lessen your risk of developing heart disease.


It is also important to discuss with your doctor if you are experiencing any symptoms of heart disease or if it runs in your family.

 

If you think you are having a heart attack or heart failure, call 911 immediately.



If you are experiencing these symptoms together, seek medical help as well: chest pain, shortness of breath, and fainting.

 

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