Monday, September 2, 2013

Heart Disease: Are you at risk?

The #1 killer in America: Heart Disease

Heart disease includes numerous problems related to the heart and surrounding vessels. Many of the problems relate directly to a process called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a condition that develops when a substance ("plaque") builds up in the walls of the arteries. This buildup narrows the arteries, making it harder for blood to flow through. If a blood clot forms, it can stop the blood flow all together. This can cause a heart attack or stroke. This video explains heard disease in more detail:

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), heart disease is the leading cause of death of men and women in America. What's worse is, many cases are preventable.

Find out your risk what you can do to reduce your risk, starting today.


Heart disease symptoms vary, depending on what type of heart disease you have.

In the majority of cases, the disease has affected vessels surrounding the heart. Symptoms include:

- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath (not during activity or after minimal activity)
- Numbness or tingling in your hands or feet

Other cases of heart disease may be due to an irregular heart beat, known as an arrhythmia. Your heart may beat too quickly, too slowly or irregularly if you have an arrhythmia. Heart disease related to an arrhythmia can include:

- A fluttering feeling in your chest
- A pounding feeling in your chest or quickened heart beat
- Chest pain
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Fainting or near fainting spell

Heart disease can also be caused by a thickening and stiffening of the heart muscles themselves. This is referred to as cardiomyopathy. In early stages of cardiomyopathy, you may have no symptoms. Your doctor however can detect early stages of cardiomyopathy with a simple outpatient exam called a "Myocardiogram". As the condition worsens, cardiomyopathy symptoms include:

- Shortness of breath (not during activity or after minimal activity)
- Swelling in the legs, ankles, and/or feet.
- Bloating or swelling of the abdomen
- General fatigue or easily tired
- Dizziness or lightheadedness

Lastly, heart disease can be caused by an infection. It may be either pericarditis, which affects the tissue surrounding the heart; Myocarditis, which affects the muscular middle layer within the heart; or endocarditis, which affects the valves of the heart. Varying slightly with each type of infection, heart infection symptoms can include:

- Fever
- Shortness of breath (not during activity or after minimal activity)
- Swelling in the legs, ankles, and/or feet.
- Bloating or swelling of the abdomen
- Persistent dry cough
- Skin rash or unusual spots
- General fatigue or easily tired

You might not be diagnosed with heart disease until your condition worsens to the point that you have a heart attack, stroke or chest pain. It's important to watch for these symptoms and discuss any concerns with your doctor. Heart disease can sometimes be found early with regular visits to your doctor, along with avoiding risk factors and participating in heart healthy activities.

Risk Factors

Your age: Simply getting older increases your risk of damaged and narrowed arteries and weakened or thickened heart muscle, which contribute to heart disease.

Your gender: Men are generally at greater risk of heart disease. The risk for a woman increases after menopause, especially those on hormone therapy.

Family history: A family history of heart disease increases your risk of coronary artery disease, especially if a parent developed it at an early age (before age 55 for a male relative, such as your brother or father, and 65 for a female relative, such as your mother or sister).

Smoking: Nicotine constricts your blood vessels, and carbon monoxide can damage their inner lining, making them more susceptible to atherosclerosis.

Poor diet choices: A diet that's high in fat, salt and cholesterol can contribute to the development of heart disease.

High blood pressure: Uncontrolled high blood pressure can result in hardening and thickening of your arteries, narrowing the vessels through which blood flows. This puts more stress on the heart to pump through narrowed vessels.

High blood cholesterol levels: High levels of cholesterol in your blood can increase the risk of formation of plaques and atherosclerosis. Plaques can be caused by a high level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, known as "bad" cholesterol, or a low level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, known as "good" cholesterol.

Diabetes: High blood sugar levels harms the lining within the vessels, leaving them more susceptible to collecting plaque. Among other reasons, diabetes or uncontrolled elevated blood sugar levels highly increases your risk of heart disease.

Obesity: Excess weight typically worsens other risk factors and increases the work load on the heart.

Physical inactivity: Lack of exercise also is associated with many forms of heart disease and some of its other risk factors, as well.

High stress: Unrelieved stress in your life may damage your arteries as well as worsen other risk factors for heart disease.

Poor hygiene: Not regularly washing your hands and failure to establish other habits that can help prevent viral or bacterial infections can put you at risk of heart infections, especially if you already have an underlying heart condition. This also include dental health.

Reduce Your Risk--Today!

In 5 Easy Steps

1. Don't smoke or use tobacco
Smoking or using tobacco is one of the most significant risk factors for developing heart disease. Smokeless tobacco and low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes also are risky, as is exposure to secondhand smoke.

The bad news: The nicotine in cigarette smoke makes your heart work harder by narrowing your blood vessels and increasing your heart rate and blood pressure.

The good news: When you quit smoking, your risk of heart disease drops dramatically within just one year. And no matter how long or how much you smoked, you'll start reaping rewards as soon as you quit.

2. Eat a heart-healthy diet
Eating a special diet called the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan can help protect your heart. Following the DASH diet means eating foods that are low in fat, cholesterol and salt.

The bad news: Change is hard. This means less/no deep friend foods, bakery goods, or adding salt to food before tasting it.

The good news: It will help you in the long run. This means more fruits, vegetables, and fish. In addition, eating more fruits and vegetables can not only help prevent heart disease, but also may help prevent cancer.

3. Maintain a healthy weight
As you put on weight in adulthood, your weight gain is mostly fat rather than muscle. This excess weight can lead to conditions that increase your chances of heart disease - high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. One way to see if your weight is healthy is to calculate your body mass index (BMI), which considers your height and weight in determining whether you have a healthy or unhealthy percentage of body fat. BMI numbers 25 and higher are associated with higher blood fats, higher blood pressure, and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

The bad news: The BMI is a good indicator, but not perfect. Muscle weighs more than fat, for instance, and women and men who are very muscular and physically fit can have high BMIs without added health risks. Because of that, waist circumference also is a useful tool to measure how much abdominal fat you have:
Men are considered overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 40 inches (101.6 centimeters, or cm)
Women are overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 35 inches (88.9 cm)

The good news: Even a small weight loss can be beneficial. Reducing your weight by just 10 percent can decrease your blood pressure, lower your blood cholesterol level and reduce your risk of diabetes.

4. Get regular health screenings
High blood pressure and high cholesterol can damage your heart and blood vessels. But without testing for them, you probably won't know whether you have these conditions. Regular screening can tell you what your numbers are and whether you need to take action.

The bad news: High blood pressure is known as a "silent killer", meaning you won't know you have it till it's too late.

The good news: Both blood pressure and cholesterol levels are easily measured by your doctor. A short visit to the office or even some health screening fairs or clinics can tell you your numbers.

5. Exercise
Getting some regular, daily exercise can reduce your risk of heart disease. And when you combine physical activity with other lifestyle measures, such as maintaining a healthy weight, the payoff is even greater.

The bad news: It must be regular physical activity to make the most impact.

The good news: All it takes is 30 to 60 minutes of moderately intense physical activity most days of the week. However, even shorter amounts of exercise offer heart benefits, so if you can't meet those guidelines, don't give up. You can even break up your workout time into 10-minute sessions. Remember that activities such as gardening, housekeeping, taking the stairs and walking the dog all count toward your total.

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