Posted on September 29, 2016
World Heart Day was founded in 2000 to inform people around the globe that heart disease and stroke are the world’s leading causes of death, claiming 17.3 million lives each year.
World Heart Day 2016: Take a Moment to Listen to Your Heart
Each year, the World Heart Federation sponsors World Heart Day to raise awareness that cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease and stroke, is the world’s leading cause of death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) heart disease and stroke were the first and fourth leading causes of death in the United States in 2011. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) does not affect all groups of people in the same way; for example, black men are almost twice as likely as white women to die of cardiovascular disease. Many think heart disease occurs mostly in older people, but numerous deaths from this condition happen well before people reach the age of 75. Although many people associate cardiovascular disease only with men, it is the leading killer of U.S. women.
Common Myths Concerning Heart Health
How much do you really know about heart health? Did you know that heart disease can affect people of any age? Separate fact from fiction.
“I’m too young to worry about heart disease.” How you live now affects your risk for cardiovascular diseases later in life. As early as childhood and adolescence, plaque can start accumulating in the arteries and later lead to clogged arteries. One in three Americans has cardiovascular disease, but not all of them are senior citizens.
“I’d know if I had high blood pressure because there would be warning signs.” High blood pressure is called the “silent killer” because you don’t usually know you have it. You may never experience symptoms, so don’t wait for your body to alert you there’s a problem. If left untreated, high blood pressure can cause heart attack, stroke, kidney damage, and other serious health problems.
“I’ll know when I’m having a heart attack because I’ll have chest pain.” Not necessarily. Although it’s common to have chest pain or discomfort, a heart attack may cause subtle symptoms, including shortness of breath, nausea, feeling lightheaded, and pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the jaw, neck, or back. Even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately.
“Diabetes won’t threaten my heart as long as I take my medication.” Even when blood sugar levels are under control, you’re still at increased risk for heart disease and stroke. That’s because the risk factors that contribute to diabetes onset also make you more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. These overlapping risk factors include high blood pressure, obesity, physical inactivity, and smoking.
“Heart disease runs in my family, so there’s nothing I can do to prevent it.” Although people with a family history of heart disease are at higher risk, you can take steps to dramatically reduce your risk: Get active; control cholesterol; improve your diet; manage blood pressure; maintain a healthy weight; control blood sugar; and stop smoking.
“I don’t need to have my cholesterol checked until I’m middle-aged.” The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends you start getting your cholesterol checked every five years starting at age 20.
“This pain in my legs must be a sign of aging. I’m sure it has nothing to do with my heart.” Leg pain felt in the muscles could be a sign of a condition called peripheral artery disease. PAD results from blocked arteries in the legs caused by plaque buildup. The risk for heart attack or stroke increases for people with PAD.
“My heart is beating really fast. I must be having a heart attack.” Your heart rate speeds up during exercise or when you get excited and slows down when you’re sleeping. Most of the time, a change in your heartbeat is nothing to worry about. But sometimes, it can be a sign of arrhythmia, an abnormal or irregular heartbeat. Most arrhythmias are harmless, but some can last long enough to impact how well the heart works and require treatment.
“I should avoid exercise after having a heart attack.” Not at all! As soon as possible, get moving with a plan approved by your doctor. Research shows that heart attack survivors who are physically active and make other heart-healthy changes live longer than those who don’t. People with chronic conditions typically find that moderate-intensity activity is safe and beneficial. The AHA recommends at least two and a half hours of moderate intensity physical activity each week. Find the help you need by joining a cardiac rehabilitation program, but first consult your healthcare provider for advice on developing a physical activity plan tailored to your needs.
Examine Your Daily Habits
You might think a daily regimen of exercise and a strict diet is enough to avoid the risk of developing heart disease, but many medical studies indicate otherwise. The AHA warns that a few seemingly innocuous habits in your daily life could increase the risk of getting a cardiovascular disease. They are:
Sitting too much: Most of us lead a sedentary lifestyle—we end up sitting in front of a screen or steering wheel most of our waking hours and this is bad for your heart. The medical community says sitting for five or more hours every day could lead to heart disease. Change this habit by going for a short five minute walk every one to two hours to help your arteries stay flexible and to maintain good circulation.
Excessive alcohol consumption: The AHA recommends only two alcoholic beverages a day for men and one alcoholic beverage per day for women. Go overboard and you can interrupt normal heart rhythm, increase blood pressure, and court heart failure. Too much alcohol can also cause cardiomyopathy, cardiac arrhythmia, and sudden cardiac death.
A short temper: If you fly off the handle too often over petty issues you’re putting your heart at serious risk. Men and women with anger issues have two times the risk of CAD and three times the risk of heart failure. Anger, combined with anxiety, can lead to increased blood pressure, can disrupt the electrical impulses of the heart, and can advance the fat build up in arteries (arteriosclerosis). Next time you feel that boiling rage inside take a few deep breaths and calm yourself.
A cynical attitude: Does the glass always seem half empty to you? If the answer is yes, start looking at the bright side of life. Studies show negativity and cynicism contribute to poor heart health. A 2009 study on the topic says cynicism and hostility can not only increase the chances of heart disease and fatality, but can also lead to other illnesses, like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and depression.
Losing sleep: Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to high resting cortisol and adrenaline levels—the same the body experiences when faced with a stressful situation. Adults need eight hours of sleep each night; young adults should sleep for at least 10 hours.
Skipping regular flossing: Surprisingly, dental health may be directly related to cardiac health. The bacteria found in people with gum disease can flow into blood vessels in the mouth and on to the coronary arteries. These bacteria can narrow the arteries, affecting blood supply to the heart. A recent study showed 38% of those with CAD have gum issues.
Skipping the doctor: Regular check-ups are essential to make you aware of whether or not you have any cardiac disease symptoms or any illness which could contribute to heart disease.
Make a Few Changes
In addition to making changes in your daily life, the following steps can be taken to improve your health and keep your heart healthy.
> Visit your health care team—get a checkup at least once each year. Your doctor or nurse can check for conditions that are risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
> Eat a diet low in sodium, saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol and high in fresh fruits and vegetables.
> Take a brisk 10-minute walk, three times a day, five days a week. Do more if you can: Take the stairs instead of the elevator or rake the yard instead of using the leaf blower. Exercising with friends and family can be a great way to stay healthy and have fun.
> Maintain a healthy weight. What weight is right for you? One way to determine if you are at a healthy weight is to calculate your body mass index (BMI), which is based on your height and weight. For most people, BMI is a reliable indicator of body fat levels. Learn more here.
> Don’t smoke. If you do smoke, quit as soon as possible. Ask your health care team for help in making a plan to quit or attend one of CCHC’s free smoking cessation classes.
> Moderate alcohol intake. If you choose to drink alcoholic beverages, avoid more than one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men.
As you can see, making just a few lifestyle changes can make a huge difference when it comes to your heart health. Take a few moments this World Heart Day to consider what steps you can take to improve your quality of life.
For more information, visit www.cchchealthcare.com. To make an appointment with one of our many qualified physicians, call Coastal Carolina Health Care’s Heart and Vascular Specialists at (252) 63-HEART (634-3278).
(Sources: World Heart Federation, American Heart Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Forum for Heart Disease & Stroke Prevention; and DNA Webdesk.)