What is Heart Disease?
Heart disease, or cardiovascular disease, is the buildup of plaque in the walls of the arteries. Plaque is the accumulation of fat, cholesterol, and other substances, and the process of the plaque buildup is call atherosclerosis. When the plaque builds up, it narrows the arteries, making it harder for blood to flow through. This can cause your blood to clot, and if a blood clot forms, it can actually stop the blood flow. When the blood flow to any part of the heart is blocked by a blood clot, a heart attack can occur. When the clot cuts off blood flow completely, the part of the heart muscle supplied by that artery begins to die.
This is cause enough for alarm, but heart disease can cause a stroke as well! The most common type of stroke is called an ischemic stroke. This happens when a blood vessel that feeds the brain gets blocked by a blood clot. When the blood supply to a part of the brain is shut off, brain cells will die. This can affect your ability to carry out previous functions, like talking or even walking.
Who is at risk?
People who meet the below conditions are at risk of heart disease:
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol
- Diabetes and prediabetes
- Being overweight or obese
- Being physically inactive
- Having a family history of early heart disease
- Having a history of preeclampsia during pregnancy
- Unhealthy diet
- Age (55 or older for women)
What are the symptoms?
Heart disease symptoms generally include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen or back
- Pain, numbness, weakness or coldness in your arms or legs if the blood vessels in those parts of your body are narrowed
- Irregular heartbeat
- Swollen feet or ankles
Men are more likely to have chest pain, while women are more likely to have symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea and extreme fatigue.
When to see a doctor
Seek emergency medical care if you have these heart disease symptoms:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
What can you do to prevent it?
Unfortunately, heart disease is a lifelong condition—once you get it, you’ll always have it. Procedures such as percutaneous coronary intervention and bypass surgery can help blood and oxygen flow to the heart more easily, but the arteries affected will remain damaged. This still leaves you at risk for a heart attack. Many people, especially women, will become permanently disabled or may even die of complications from heart disease. If you have heart disease, you need to make changes to your lifestyle and daily habits, or your condition will steadily worsen.
Sound scary? It is. However, heart disease can be improved, or even prevented, by making the following changes to your lifestyle to improve your heart health:
- Stop smoking.Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease, especially atherosclerosis. Quitting is the best way to reduce your risk of heart disease and its complications.
- Control your blood pressure.
- Check your cholesterol.
- Keep diabetes under control.If you have diabetes, tight blood sugar control can help reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Exercise. It helps you achieve and maintain a healthy weight , control elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure, and manage diabetes — all risk factors for heart disease. 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity is recommended.
- Eat healthy foods. A heart-healthy diet is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and added sugar. Your diet should be based on fruits, veggies and healthy whole grains.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight increases your risk of heart disease. For preventing and treating heart disease, your BMI should be less than 25.
- Manage stress.
- Deal with depression. Being depressed can increase your risk of heart disease significantly. Talk to your doctor if you feel hopeless or uninterested in your life.
- Limit alcohol intake.
Lastly, check in with your Doctor on a regular basis. Early detection and treatment can set the stage for a lifetime of better heart health!