One American loses their battle with cardiovascular disease (CVD) every 40 seconds, making it the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the American Heart Association.
But what is heart, or cardiovascular, disease? The terms cover a wide variety of problems with the heart and blood vessels, many of which can be traced to a buildup of plaque in the arterial walls, called atherosclerosis. As the level of plaque increases, the walls of the arteries become narrower, making it more difficult for blood to move throughout the body. The risks of a blood clot or a full stoppage of flow increase significantly as the passageway narrows, resulting in a stroke or heart attack.
Are you at risk?
The first step in preventive measures or treatment is a consultation with your general practitioner or cardiologist. Men and women are both susceptible to heart disease, but many hereditary markers, such as age, race and ethnicity, can affect your chances of developing CVD. The risk increases as you age and is diagnosed more in residents originating from the southeastern United States and/or those of African American descent.
However, there are many aspects of your lifestyle that can be managed to help prevent, or even assist in treatment of, a heart ailment.
Smoking, whether first or secondhand, is one of the leading risk factors in heart-related illnesses. Inhaling the burning contents of a cigarette or cigar:
- Damages the lining in your arteries, which may cause a heart attack
- Reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood, making your heart pump harder to meet the oxygen needs of your body
- Increases your heart rate and blood pressure
- Increases your likeliness of forming a blood clot, leading to potential heart attacks or strokes
You should stop smoking immediately to increase your body’s chance of recovery and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Lack of physical activity and poor weight management are substantial contributors to the increased number of patients diagnosed with heart disease. At any age, for any person, exercise benefits the heart. When done regularly, with the approval from a qualified physician, physical activity:
- Strengthens your heart muscle, resulting in a more efficient blood flow
- Expands capillaries within your body to deliver more oxygen to your extremities and muscles
- Lowers blood pressure
- Raises HDL, or “good,” cholesterol
- Helps maintain a healthy body weight
Control your consumption. If you’re overweight or obese, your risk of heart disease exponentially increases. Stay away from fatty, high-sugar and low-nutrient foods. Moderation is key when it comes to less healthy choices, but an appropriate balance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins will keep your susceptibility to heart disease on the lower end of the scale.
On the first Friday in February, National Wear Red Day. The American Heart Association encourages everyone across the nation to wear red to help raise awareness for cardiovascular disease. You can join the conversation with the hashtag #WearRedandGive to help fight heart disease and stroke.
When diagnosed early, diseases of the heart and blood vessels can be treated and managed very effectively. Join us this month and all year as we celebrate the hard work and dedication to keeping Portland healthy.