As we get older, the arteries surrounding the heart become smaller and smaller as fatty deposits stick to the walls of the veins and arteries surrounding the heart. As this happens, the flow of oxygen is restricted and the heart becomes “oxygen-starved”. This is the time that a heart attack occurs. There are several things to look for that are signs of heart disease and ways that you can prevent it.
Someone can have severe coronary artery disease (CAD) without experiencing a heart attack or experiencing any chest pains. If you experience any of the following symptoms, even occasionally, seek the attention or advice of your doctor.
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Palpitations (an irregular heartbeat, skipped beats, or a “flip-flop” feeling in your chest)
- Fast or racing heartbeat
- Sweating (not due to exercise)
The most common symptom is chest pain or angina. This can be described as an uncomfortable feeling usually felt in the chest just below the breastbone. There are other places that the discomfort or pain can be felt including the left shoulder (because your heart is on the left side of your body), arms, neck, throat, jaw or even your back. Angina has often been described as a heavy feeling or aching, burning, fullness and squeezing. The symptoms often resemble those of heartburn or indigestion. Get emergency treatment if the feeling lasts for more than about 15 minutes.
For those who have not experienced a heart attack or who have not displayed symptoms of coronary artery disease can work these nine preventative measures into their lifestyle to greatly reduce the risk of heart disease.
-Quit smoking! This includes not only cigarette smokers, but pipe and cigar smokers as well. Even smoking just one cigarette per day can double the risk of a heart attack.
-Lower your cholesterol. Cholesterol in the body produces fatty substances that can clog the arteries or greatly reduce the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart. If your cholesterol level is above 200 mg you are at risk. Women should have a cholesterol profile done every year beginning at age 40 and men at age 30. If there is a history of heart disease in the family, cholesterol levels should be checked each year beginning at age 20.
-Raise your HDL levels of cholesterol. HDL is the “good” cholesterol. This is the cholesterol that carries the “bad” cholesterol away from the arteries back to the liver. From there it is removed from the bloodstream.
-Reduce high blood pressure. Blood pressure is the force applied in your arteries as your heartbeats. The higher your blood pressure, the harder your heart, and kidneys are working and this, in turn, increases your risk of heart disease.
-Maintain healthy body weight. The more you weigh, the harder your heart has to work. Having excess weight on your body is not healthy and causes your organs to function differently. Women should aim to have a waist measurement of fewer than 35 inches and men less than 40. Your body mass index (body fat) should range from 18.5 to 24.9.
-Exercise. Moderate exercise for about 30 minutes a day for at least 3 days is all that is required to gain the benefits.
-Eat heart healthy foods. Fatty foods with increased sugar and fat levels do not fall into this category. Fruits, vegetables, proteins, nuts and whole grains do.
-Reduce stress. Stress causes the heart to work overtime, therefore increasing the risk of heart disease.
-Limit alcohol consumption. Those of us who drink, probably drink more than we should. It’s OK to enjoy a tipple, but actively try to reduce the amount or frequency with which you drink. Also, don’t forget to keep hydrated with water.
If you are uncertain about your health in relation to any of these topics, consult your doctor for advice.