February is Heart and Stroke Awareness Month
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.