Those that you cannot control:
Gender: Men tend to develop heart disease at younger ages than women. However, heart disease remains the number one killer of American men and women.
Age: The risk of heart disease goes up with age, especially over 65, and the risk of dying from a heart attack is much higher in the elderly.
Family history: We are a product of our genetics and while still poorly understood, having immediate family members (parents, siblings) with heart disease, especially when it developed at a young age, may be a risk factor for heart disease. Unfortunately, there is no simple blood test (yet) to evaluate a person’s genetic risk of acquiring heart disease.
Risk factors that you can control:
Diabetes: Diabetes Mellitus is one of the most important risk factors which leads to the development of heart disease. It is so important, that diabetic persons are considered to have a similar risk of having a first heart attack as a non-diabetic person with established heart disease. Control of blood sugar with diet, medications, and maintaining a healthy body weight may prevent complications, including heart disease.
Hypertension: High blood pressure (>140/90) is one of the most common factors which contributes to the development of heart disease, and the most important factor leading to stroke. Control of blood pressure (normal blood pressure is 120/80) with diet, avoidance of excessive salt and alcohol, optimal weight, and medication when needed, can help prevent heart disease.
High cholesterol: Most adults should have a cholesterol profile (lipid panel) to determine if this common and easily treatable risk factor is present. Both a high LDL (“bad cholesterol) and low HDL (“good cholesterol”) may lead to an increased risk of heart disease. Depending on your level of cholesterol and associated risk factors, you may need special dietary changes or cholesterol-altering medication to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Cigarette use: Smoking remains one the most important correctable behaviors which is strongly associated with the development of cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and strokes). Quitting can not only decrease your risk of developing heart disease, but will preserve lung function and may diminish the risk of cancer. You should speak to your health care provider to determine your best strategy to quit successfully and remain smoke-free.
Obesity: This can unfortunately lead to many of the common risk factors for heart disease, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and abnormal cholesterol. Sustained weight loss and maintainence of a healthy body weight requires a long-term commitment to regular exercise and a careful and consistent diet. Always consult with your doctor before beginning a diet or exercise program,
A heart attack occurs when the heart muscle becomes damaged from inadequate supply of oxygen-rich blood from a coronary artery. This usually occurs when the cap on a cholesterol-rich plaque within the coronary artery wall ruptures forming a blood clot and preventing blood from reaching the muscle.
The most symptom of a heart attack is chest discomfort, often described as a squeezing, pressure, or heavy sensation across the chest. Not everyone experiences the same sensation and the location of discomfort varies from person to person – some common locations of heart attack pain include the jaw, throat, back, arms, and even the upper abdomen. There are often accompanying symptoms including breathlessness, nausea, sweating, and dizziness.
Call 911 immediately – this is the fastest way to receive medical attention. Prompt medical care (every minute counts) can minimize the degree of heart muscle damage done and improve the chances of survival.
Heart failure is a common heart problem which occurs when the heart is unable to perform adequately to meet the demands of the body. Heart failure affects 5 Million Americans and an additional 550,000 are diagnosed each year.
Many different injuries to the heart (some permanent) can lead over time (often years) to HF. The most common cause is damage to the heart muscle from a heart attack due to a temporary loss of blood supply to a portion of the heart muscle. Heart attacks often precede the development of HF by years, even decades. Heart failure also may be caused by the long-term effects of high blood pressure with a resultant stiffening of the heart muscle.
The most common symptoms of heart failure include fatigue, breathlessness with activities, and swelling, usually of the ankles and legs. Symptoms are the result of inability of the heart to deliver an adequate supply of blood to the body (low-output), and accumulation of excess salt and water in body tissues (swelling and breathlessness).
Just as heart failure often takes years to develop, it is a chronic disease that requires long-term treatment to minimize symptoms, prevent hospitalization, and prolong life. These include lifestyle changes, careful diet, medications, and occasionally special implantable devices called implantable pacemaker-defibrillators.
Certain medications have been shown to preserve heart function, improve symptoms, and increase survival. The most important are called angiotensin converting-enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and beta-blockers. Diuretics (such as furosemide) are used to help the kidneys excrete extra salt and water to minimize swelling and improve breathing. The doses of these medicines need to be tailored for the individual to optimize the benefits of the drugs and minimize the side effects.
The most important changes are dietary, especially when it comes to salt. Salt (sodium) intake should be restricted to less than 2000 mg per day and water consumption may also be restricted by your doctor. The best way to monitor if you are accumulating too much fluid is be weighing yourself each day and notifying your doctor if your weight begins to change by more than 2-3 pounds. It is also important to avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and many common over-the-counter medicines such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (Ibuprofen for example).