Fe­bru­ary is Heart and Stroke Aware­ness Month

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Daily steps to keep your heart healthy

Heart dis­ease is a for­mi­da­ble foe. Ac­cord­ing the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, heart dis­ease ac­counts for nearly 25 per­cent of all deaths in the United States each year.

Is­sues re­lat­ing to the heart af­fect both men and women, and an es­ti­mated 15 mil­lion adults in the U.S. have coro­nary heart dis­ease, the most com­mon type of heart dis­ease. And heart dis­ease is not ex­clu­sive to the United States, as the Heart Re­search In­sti­tute says that ev­ery seven min­utes in Canada some­one dies from heart dis­ease or stroke.

Such sta­tis­tics are dis­con­cert­ing, but they can serve as a wake-up call that com­pels peo­ple to pri­or­i­tize heart health. For­tu­nately, heart dis­ease is of­ten pre­ventable and peo­ple can em­ploy var­i­ous strate­gies to re­duce their risk. • Stop smok­ing right now. One of the best things to do to pro­tect the heart is to stop smok­ing. The Heart Foun­da­tion in­di­cates that smok­ing re­duces oxy­gen in the blood and dam­ages blood ves­sel walls. It also con­trib­utes to ath­er­o­scle­ro­sis, or a nar­row­ing and clog­ging of the ar­ter­ies. • Eat healthy fats. When eat­ing, choose polyun­sat­u­rated and un­sat­u­rated fats and avoid trans fats as much as pos­si­ble. Trans fats in­crease one’s risk of de­vel­op­ing heart dis­ease by clog­ging ar­ter­ies and rais­ing LDL (bad) choles­terol lev­els. Read food la­bels be­fore buy­ing any­thing at the store. • Keep your mouth clean. Stud­ies show that bac­te­ria in the mouth in­volved in the de­vel­op­ment of gum dis­ease can travel to the blood­stream and cause an el­e­va­tion in C-re­ac­tive pro­tein, a marker for blood ves­sel in­flam­ma­tion. Brush and floss twice daily, and be sure to sched­ule rou­tine den­tal clean­ings. • Get ad­e­quate shut-eye. En­sur­ing ad­e­quate sleep can im­prove heart health. One study found that young and mid­dle-age adults who reg­u­larly slept seven hours a night had less cal­cium in their ar­ter­ies (a sign of early heart dis­ease) com­pared to those who slept five hours or less or those who slept nine hours or more. • Adopt healthy eat­ing habits. Changes to diet, in­clud­ing eat­ing more fruits, veg­eta­bles, whole grains, and lean pro­tein, can help you lose and main­tain a healthy weight, im­prove choles­terol lev­els and re­duce blood pres­sure — lead­ing to a health­ier heart. • Em­brace phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity. Reg­u­lar mod­er­ate ex­er­cise is great for the heart. It can oc­cur at the gym, play­ing with the kids or even tak­ing the stairs at work. A healthy heart be­gins with daily habits that pro­mote long-term heart health.

3 sim­ple ways to a health­ier heart

Heart dis­ease is a for­mi­da­ble foe. Ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion, heart dis­ease is the lead­ing cause of death in the United States, ac­count­ing for ap­prox­i­mately 800,000 deaths ev­ery year. The Gov­ern­ment of Canada notes that heart dis­ease is the sec­ond lead­ing cause of death in that coun­try, an­nu­ally ac­count­ing for tens of thou­sands of deaths. (Note: Canada’s pop­u­la­tion is slightly more than one-tenth the pop­u­la­tion of the United States.) While heart dis­ease ex­acts a dev­as­tat­ing toll on the United States and Canada, its reach ex­tends far be­yond North Amer­ica, as the Amer­i­can Col­lege of Car­di­ol­ogy notes that car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease ac­counts for 31 per­cent of all deaths across the globe. In spite of the preva­lence of heart dis­ease, men and women are not help­less against it. In fact, there are many ways for men and women to re­duce their risk for heart dis­ease.

1. Main­tain a healthy weight.

The Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion re­ports that be­tween 60 and 70 per­cent of Amer­i­cans are over­weight or obese. Car­ry­ing around ex­tra weight takes a toll on the body, in­creas­ing a per­son’s risk for heart dis­ease and stroke. Over­weight or obese men and women can work with their physi­cians to de­velop a plan for ef­fec­tive, long-term weight loss, a plan that will likely in­clude a com­bi­na­tion of diet and rou­tine ex­er­cise.

2. Un­der­stand and man­age blood pres­sure.

The AHA notes that high blood pres­sure, a com­mon con­di­tion af­fect­ing roughly one in three Amer­i­cans, is of­ten re­ferred to as “the silent killer” be­cause it does not nec­es­sar­ily pro­duce symp­toms. Blood pres­sure mea­sures the force push­ing out­ward on the walls of blood ves­sels as they carry blood oxy­gen to the body’s or­gans, and the force cre­ated as the heart rests be­tween beats. Over time, the ar­te­rial walls of peo­ple with high blood pres­sure may be­come stressed and de­velop weak spots or scar­ring that makes them vul­ner­a­ble to the buildup of plaque. Plaque buildup can in­crease the risk of blood clots and stroke. Blood pres­sure can rise as a per­son ages, so man­ag­ing blood pres­sure in­volves rou­tinely check­ing it and mak­ing cer­tain changes, such as eat­ing health­ier foods and ex­er­cis­ing more of­ten, if it is high.

3. Con­trol choles­terol lev­els.

High lev­els of low-den­sity lipopro­tein, of­ten re­ferred to as “bad” choles­terol, can in­crease a per­son’s risk for heart dis­ease. The AHA notes that ex­ces­sive amounts of choles­terol can be de­posited into the ar­ter­ies as plaque. When that hap­pens, it leads to a con­di­tion known as ath­er­o­scle­ro­sis, or a nar­row­ing of the in­side of the artery walls. That nar­row­ing leads to an in­creased risk for heart at­tack and stroke. Men and women should get their choles­terol lev­els checked at least once ev­ery four to six years be­gin­ning at age 20. Men and women who have been di­ag­nosed with high choles­terol should rec­og­nize that choles­terol is only found in an­i­mal prod­ucts, so a diet that is rich in fruits, veg­eta­bles and whole grains and low in an­i­mal prod­ucts can pro­vide a sim­ple way for men and women to lower their choles­terol. A more thor­ough and de­tailed plan to lower choles­terol lev­els should be dis­cussed with a physi­cian.

More in­for­ma­tion about heart dis­ease and how to com­bat it can be found at www.heart.org.

Signs of atrial fib­ril­la­tion — and how to treat it

Pal­pi­ta­tions of the heart or un­com­fort­able sen­sa­tions in the chest can be dis­tress­ing. Thoughts of heart at­tack may come to mind, and that anx­i­ety can only ex­ac­er­bate the sit­u­a­tion. While heart at­tack might be the first thing peo­ple think of when ex­pe­ri­enc­ing chest dis­com­fort, atrial fib­ril­la­tion may be to blame for such feel­ings. Atrial fib­ril­la­tion, also called AFib, is a quiv­er­ing or ir­reg­u­lar heart­beat that may lead to heart-re­lated com­pli­ca­tions. The Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion says that at least 2.7 mil­lion Amer­i­cans are liv­ing with AFib. Al­though treat­able, with­out proper di­ag­no­sis, AFib may lead to blood clots, stroke and even heart fail­ure. Many peo­ple with AFib ex­pe­ri­ence no symp­toms at all and are un­aware they have it un­til it is dis­cov­ered dur­ing a phys­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion. For those who ex­pe­ri­ence symp­toms, The Mayo Clinic lists these as some of the more com­mon:

• Pal­pi­ta­tions, which can be sen­sa­tions of a flip-flop­ping in the chest or even a rac­ing feel­ing. • Fa­tigue • Re­duced abil­ity to ex­er­cise

• Light­head­ed­ness • Chest pain or short­ness of breath • Dizzi­ness and weak­ness When the heart is work­ing nor­mally, it con­tracts and re­laxes in a beat. When a per­son has AFib, the up­per cham­bers of the heart, called the atria, beat ir­reg­u­larly. They quiver and do not move the blood into the ven­tri­cles in an ef­fec­tive man­ner. This ir­reg­u­lar­ity can cause pool­ing or clot­ting of blood. Should a clot break off and en­ter the blood­stream, par­tic­u­larly in an artery lead­ing to the brain, stroke may oc­cur. A proper di­ag­no­sis from a physi­cian is needed be­fore treat­ment can be­gin. An ex­am­i­na­tion may in­clude an EKG or ECG, which will show the heart’s elec­tri­cal ac­tiv­ity as line trac­ings on pa­per. The spikes and dips in the trac­ings are called waves. An EKG will de­ter­mine if the heart is pump­ing cor­rectly. AFib is more com­mon among peo­ple with clogged ar­ter­ies or di­a­betes and may de­velop fol­low­ing valve surgery. AFib also is more com­mon in peo­ple with coro­nary heart dis­ease. As a per­son ages, his or her risk for AFib in­creases. Stress also can be a ma­jor fac­tor in trig­ger­ing AFib, ac­cord­ing to StopA­fib.org. Once AFib is di­ag­nosed, man­ag­ing risk fac­tors and restor­ing a heart to nor­mal rhythm be­comes the pri­or­ity. Doc­tors use a va­ri­ety of med­i­ca­tions to con­trol heart rate, which may in­clude beta block­ers and cal­cium chan­nel block­ers. Med­i­ca­tions to pre­vent stroke also may be pre­scribed. Sur­gi­cal in­ter­ven­tion may be nec­es­sary if med­i­ca­tions aren’t work­ing. Atrial fib­ril­la­tion is a se­ri­ous con­di­tion that re­quires treat­ment. Episodes can be man­aged and treated to help peo­ple live health­ier lives.

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