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Learn how to take care of your heart during Heart Health Awareness Month

By February 17, 2022Blog
The Road to a Healthy Heart

Heart disease refers to any condition that affects the heart. There are different types of heart diseases, and the one that needs to be addressed the most is coronary heart disease.

According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States; 1 in every 4 deaths in the United States is from cardiovascular disease, of which more than half are due to coronary artery disease.

What is Coronary Heart Disease?

Coronary heart disease happens when arteries that supply blood to the heart become clogged. This is due to the presence of plaque which is a collection of cholesterol, calcium, and other substances. This narrows down the heart’s arteries, resulting in less oxygen to the muscles that pump the heart. If the blood flow stops due to a plaque or a clot, it can damage and destroy part of the heart muscle and is known as a heart attack.

What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

1.Chest discomfort is a significant symptom of a heart attack. This could be a feeling of:

  • Pressure
  • Tightness
  • Squeezing
  • Burning which may feel like indigestion

2. Pain in one or both arms, jaw, back neck, or stomach
3. Shortness of breath
3. Cold sweat
4. Dizziness

Since heart attacks could be fatal, you have to be quick to get medical care. The sooner you get to the doctor, the more likely you are to survive. If your doctor feels you have a significant heart condition, he will refer you to a cardiologist. The cardiologist will treat your condition and counsel you on the risk and prevention of heart disease, and help you return to a whole and able life.

What is the treatment for a heart attack?

The treatment depends on the severity of the attack. If it is less severe, the cardiologist may prescribe blood thinners to prevent clots and cholesterol-lowering medications from bringing down your cholesterol and blood pressure. If there are blocked arteries, surgery would be required to clear them.

How can I prevent heart disease?

Fortunately, coronary artery disease is largely preventable by making the correct lifestyle changes.

1. Diet:

Changing food habits are tough, but these changes can have an amazing impact on heart health. Planning your weekly diet and stocking your fridge and pantry with the necessary items are as important as making the right food choices. Cardiologist Lori Mosca, MD, founder of Columbia University Medical Center’s Preventive Cardiology Program, says, “The best way to eat healthy heart foods is to follow national guidelines from organizations like the American Heart Association. These are established by experts who monitor research and are not focused on the latest fads and trends.”

The most important changes to make to your diet include:

  • Eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day as they are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber and are required for a healthy heart. Dark leafy greens and avocados are excellent for heart health.
  • Select whole grains such as whole-wheat flour, whole-grain bread, high-fiber cereal, and oatmeal.
  • Reduce trans fats and saturated fats such as butter, lard, bacon fat, cream sauce, cocoa butter. Switch to monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, canola oil, and vegetable oils.
  • Choose low-fat protein sources such as lean meat, poultry, fish, legumes, and low-fat dairy products.
  • Reduce sodium in your diet: The UCSF says, “The average American eats five or more teaspoons of salt each day. This is about 20 times as much as the body needs.” Eating too much sodium raises blood pressure, causes fluid retention, and adversely affects the heart. Increase potassium in your diet by eating fruits, nuts, vegetables, and whole grains. Avoid processed foods, frozen dinners, salted chips and crackers, salted nuts, processed cheese and sauces, soy sauce, and salted butter as they are high in sodium and affect your heart health.

2. Choose an active lifestyle:

Studies have shown that people with a sedentary lifestyle are more likely to have a heart attack than those who are active. One should aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per day. If you spend long hours working at your desk, you must remember taking breaks and moving around. You do not have to hit the gym to achieve your exercise goals. You could incorporate it into your daily activities of maintaining the house, gardening, looking after your pets, dancing, and so on. Just going for a long walk every day and talking the stairs will also give you huge benefits.

  • An active lifestyle strengthens your heart muscles allowing them to pump blood more efficiently.
  • It maintains your weight and cholesterol levels and reduces plaque formation in arteries.
  • Long periods of inactivity can also increase your risk of deep vein thrombosis or clot formation, resulting in a heart attack.

3. Quit smoking:

According to the American Heart Association, exposure to tobacco smoke contributes to about 34,000 premature heart disease deaths and 7,300 lung cancer deaths each year.

  • Tobacco contains chemicals that irritate the blood vessels, increase inflammation, and cause stiffening of the blood vessels.
  • They increase adrenaline in blood which constricts the blood vessels, increases heart rate and blood pressures, and creates unnecessary stress on the heart.
  • It affects the smoker and the friends and family who breathe secondhand smoke, who are also called passive smokers.

4. Drink in moderation:

Sticking to the current guidelines for moderate alcohol drinking, which is 14 weekly units of alcohol spread evenly over at least 3 days, will keep you in a safe zone. Alcohol is thought to raise levels of HDL cholesterol/good cholesterol and reduce clot formation that leads to stroke and heart attacks. It is not advisable to start drinking to protect your heart. One must always keep in mind that alcoholic cardiomyopathy is a heart disease directly caused by excess drinking of alcohol. Dr. John William McEvoy of Cardiology at John Hopkins says: “Alcohol is a source of excess calories and a cause of weight gain that can be harmful in the long term.”

5. Stress management:

Stress is a part of life, and the stress response is meant to alert you so that you focus better and perform better. However, continuous stress can result in the constant release of stress hormones that will drain you physically and mentally, keep your blood pressure raised, and increase the risk for heart attack and stroke. Some people poorly manage their stress by binge eating, turning to alcohol and drugs, and letting it affect their sleep.

You can manage stress positively in several ways:

  • Organizing your life and lifestyle is the most critical way to deal with your stress. The first step would be to identify your source of stress and work towards coping with it or avoiding it altogether.
  • It is important to relax after a stressful day. Restful sleep will rejuvenate your body and give you a sense of well-being.
  • It is important to take time out to be with people who support you, like your family and friends, as secure emotional bonds give you a sense of self-esteem and help you to cope with your stress.
  • Exercise, meditation, deep breathing techniques, and hobbies are great ways to control stress.

6. Good dental hygiene:

Studies have shown there is a link between oral gum disease and heart health. Cardiologists are still unclear whether heart disease causes gum disease or the reverse. It is assumed that bacteria that cause gum disease spread to other parts of the body and cause inflammation and worsen conditions like heart disease. Hence, it is necessary to maintain good dental hygiene. Regular brushing, flossing, and dental checkups will keep you in good oral health.

The road to a healthy heart starts with a healthy lifestyle. Health has been a significant casualty of the modern world. A sedentary lifestyle, bad food choices, smoking, and stress are precipitous routes to a weak heart. Fortunately, it can be prevented by making lifestyle modifications. It is difficult at first; it is a time-tested route to reducing cardiovascular risk factors and keeping your heart healthy.

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