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How to Prevent Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of the death in the United States. It is also a major cause of disability. There are many things that can raise your risk for heart disease. They are called risk factors. Some of them you cannot control, but there are many that you can control. Learning about them can lower your risk of heart disease.

What are the heart disease risk factors that I cannot change?
  • Age. Your risk of heart disease increases as you get older. Men age 45 and older and women age 55 and older have a greater risk.
  • Gender. Some risk factors may affect heart disease risk differently in women than in men. For example, estrogen provides women some protection against heart disease, but diabetes raises the risk of heart disease more in women than in men.
  • Race or ethnicity. Certain groups have higher risks than others. African Americans are more likely than whites to have heart disease, while Hispanic Americans are less likely to have it. Some Asian groups, such as East Asians, have lower rates, but South Asians have higher rates.
  • Family history. You have a greater risk if you have a close family member who had heart disease at an early age.
What can I do to lower my risk of heart disease?

Fortunately, there are many things you can do to reduce your chances of getting heart disease:

  • Control your blood pressure.High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. It is important to get your blood pressure checked regularly - at least once a year for most adults, and more often if you have high blood pressure. Take steps, including lifestyle changes, to prevent or control high blood pressure.
  • Keep your cholesterol and triglyceride levels under control. High levels of cholesterol can clog your arteries and raise your risk of coronary artery disease and heart attack. Lifestyle changes and medicines (if needed) can lower your cholesterol. Triglycerides are another type of fat in the blood. High levels of triglycerides may also raise the risk of coronary artery disease, especially in women.
  • Stay at a healthy weight. Being overweight or having obesity can increase your risk for heart disease. This is mostly because they are linked to other heart disease risk factors, including high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Controlling your weight can lower these risks.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Try to limit saturated fats, foods high in sodium, and added sugars. Eat plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. The DASH diet is an example of an eating plan that can help you to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, two things that can lower your risk of heart disease.
  • Get regular exercise. Exercise has many benefits, including strengthening your heart and improving your circulation. It can also help you maintain a healthy weight and lower cholesterol and blood pressure. All of these can lower your risk of heart disease.
  • Limit alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure. It also adds extra calories, which may cause weight gain. Both of those raise your risk of heart disease. Men should have no more than two alcoholic drinks per day, and women should not have more than one.
  • Don't smoke. Cigarette smoking raises your blood pressure and puts you at higher risk for heart attack and stroke. If you do not smoke, do not start. If you do smoke, quitting will lower your risk for heart disease. You can talk with your health care provider for help in finding the best way for you to quit.
  • Manage stress.Stress is linked to heart disease in many ways. It can raise your blood pressure. Extreme stress can be a "trigger" for a heart attack. Also, some common ways of coping with stress, such as overeating, heavy drinking, and smoking, are bad for your heart. Some ways to help manage your stress include exercise, listening to music, focusing on something calm or peaceful, and meditating.
  • Manage diabetes. Having diabetes doubles your risk of diabetic heart disease. That is because over time, high blood sugar from diabetes can damage your blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart and blood vessels. So, it is important to get tested for diabetes, and if you have it, to keep it under control.
  • Make sure that you get enough sleep. If you don't get enough sleep, you raise your risk of high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. Those three things can raise your risk for heart disease. Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Make sure that you have good sleep habits. If you have frequent sleep problems, contact your health care provider. One problem, sleep apnea, causes people to briefly stop breathing many times during sleep. This interferes with your ability to get a good rest and can raise your risk of heart disease. If you think you might have it, ask your doctor about having a sleep study. And if you do have sleep apnea, make sure that you get treatment for it.

Heart Diseases

If you're like most people, you think that heart disease is a problem for others. But heart disease is the number one killer in the U.S. It is also a major cause of disability. There are many different forms of heart disease. The most common cause of heart disease is narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries, the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart itself. This is called coronary artery disease and happens slowly over time. It's the major reason people have heart attacks.

Other kinds of heart problems may happen to the valves in the heart, or the heart may not pump well and cause heart failure. Some people are born with heart disease.

You can help reduce your risk of heart disease by taking steps to control factors that put you at greater risk:

  • Control your blood pressure
  • Lower your cholesterol
  • Don't smoke
  • Get enough exercise

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Heart Attack

Each year almost 800,000 Americans have a heart attack. A heart attack happens when blood flow to the heart suddenly becomes blocked. Without the blood coming in, the heart can't get oxygen. If not treated quickly, the heart muscle begins to die. But if you do get quick treatment, you may be able prevent or limit damage to the heart muscle. That's why it's important to know the symptoms of a heart attack and call 9-1-1 if you or someone else is having them. You should call, even if you are not sure that it is a heart attack.

The most common symptoms in men and women are

  • Chest discomfort. It is often in center or left side of the chest. It usually lasts more than a few minutes. It may go away and come back. It can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. It also can feel like heartburn or indigestion.
  • Shortness of breath. Sometimes this is your only symptom. You may get it before or during the chest discomfort. It can happen when you are resting or doing a little bit of physical activity.
  • Discomfort in the upper body. You may feel pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, shoulders, neck, jaw, or upper part of the stomach.

You may also have other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and lightheadedness. You may break out in a cold sweat. Sometimes women will have different symptoms then men. For example, they are more likely to feel tired for no reason.

The most common cause of heart attacks is coronary artery disease (CAD). With CAD, there is a buildup of cholesterol and other material, called plaque, on their inner walls or the arteries. This is atherosclerosis. It can build up for years. Eventually an area of plaque can rupture (break open). A blood clot can form around the plaque and block the artery.

A less common cause of heart attack is a severe spasm (tightening) of a coronary artery. The spasm cuts off blood flow through the artery.

At the hospital, health care providers make a diagnosis based on your symptoms, blood tests, and different heart health tests. Treatments may include medicines and medical procedures such as coronary angioplasty. After a heart attack, cardiac rehabilitation and lifestyle changes can help you recover.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Heart Failure

Heart failure is a condition in which the heart can't pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. Heart failure does not mean that your heart has stopped or is about to stop working. It means that your heart is not able to pump blood the way it should. It can affect one or both sides of the heart.

The weakening of the heart's pumping ability causes

  • Blood and fluid to back up into the lungs
  • The buildup of fluid in the feet, ankles and legs - called edema
  • Tiredness and shortness of breath

Common causes of heart failure are coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. It is more common in people who are 65 years old or older, African Americans, people who are overweight, and people who have had a heart attack. Men have a higher rate of heart failure than women.

Your doctor will diagnose heart failure by doing a physical exam and heart tests. Treatment includes treating the underlying cause of your heart failure, medicines, and heart transplantation if other treatments fail.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease. It is the leading cause of death in the United States in both men and women.

CAD happens when the arteries that supply blood to heart muscle become hardened and narrowed. This is due to the buildup of cholesterol and other material, called plaque, on their inner walls. This buildup is called atherosclerosis. As it grows, less blood can flow through the arteries. As a result, the heart muscle can't get the blood or oxygen it needs. This can lead to chest pain (angina) or a heart attack. Most heart attacks happen when a blood clot suddenly cuts off the hearts' blood supply, causing permanent heart damage.

Over time, CAD can also weaken the heart muscle and contribute to heart failure and arrhythmias. Heart failure means the heart can't pump blood well to the rest of the body. Arrhythmias are changes in the normal beating rhythm of the heart.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute