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What Do You Do To Protect Your Heart? By Dr. Shani Saks

By Expert June 30, 2009 - 10:40am
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What Do You Do To Protect Your Heart?
Since Heart Disease Is the Number One Killer Among women…

For both men and women, the most common factors that contribute to heart disease are smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and family history. Although you can’t do much about your family history or age, you can make lifestyle changes to avoid many of the other risk factors.

Don’t Smoke. Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease in women. More than half of all heart attacks in women under age 50 are related to smoking.

Atherosclerosis: Also called hardening of the arteries, atherosclerosis is caused by deposits of fat, cholesterol, and other substances that accumulate on the inner wall of the artery, creating plaque. Over time, the inner diameter of the artery narrows, and blood flow through the artery is reduced or stopped. Blocked arteries cannot supply an adequate amount of oxygen-rich blood to the organs, muscles, and tissues. Blood clots also form more easily in atherosclerotic vessels; they can lodge in a narrowed artery and block the flow of blood.

The risk of developing atherosclerosis is greater in people who smoke. Fat builds up more easily on arterial walls damaged by the carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke, and total cholesterol levels in the blood increase half a point for each cigarette smoked.

Smoking also makes the blood thicker, so it is harder for the heart to pump. Slow-moving blood is more likely to clot and block a narrowed artery.

Heart Attack and Stroke: Smokers have a 70 percent increased risk of heart attack and a higher number of strokes than nonsmokers. The risk of having a heart attack or stroke is directly related to the number of cigarettes a person smokes each day—the more cigarettes smoked, the greater the risk. Continuing to smoke after a heart attack increases the chance of having a second attack.

Angina is the chest pain that occurs when the heart muscle does not receive enough oxygen. Because smoking reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood and makes the heart beat faster, the heart requires more oxygen. Thus, chest pains occur more easily in patients with angina who smoke.

Control your blood pressure. Treating high blood pressure can lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. Losing weight, exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet are all ways to help control high blood pressure.

Excess Weight: Overweight individuals have a great risk of developing high blood pressure. Losing as little as 10 pounds reduces blood pressure in a large proportion of overweight individuals.
Physical Activity: Blood pressure can be lowered with moderately intense physical activity, which also can enhance weight loss.

Dietary Sodium: Salt is linked to levels of blood pressure. Individuals with high blood pressure may be more sensitive to the effects of sodium on blood pressure; the same is true of older people and African Americans. Moderate reductions in sodium intake can reduce high blood pressure.

Caffeine: While caffeine may raise blood pressure acutely, tolerance to this effect develops rapidly. Therefore, moderate caffeine intake has little long-term effect on blood pressure.

Exercise regularly. People who exercise are healthier and have more energy. Walking, jogging, swimming, and bicycling are great exercises for burning calories, controlling weight, and improving the function of the heart and lungs.

Increasing heart and lung efficiency. Exercise causes the heart and the lungs to work together more efficiently to circulate oxygen to the rest of the body so that your resting heart rate and blood pressure will be lower.

Increasing extremity circulation. Conditioning improves the heart’s ability to circulate oxygen throughout the body.

Promoting weight control or reduction. Losing excess body weight will decrease the work load on the heart and may lower blood pressure in persons with high blood pressure.

Controlling stress. Exercise provides a release for pent-up anxiety and frustration.

Maintain a healthy weight. Extra weight puts strain on your heart and arteries. Exercise and a low-fat diet can help you lose weight. Being overweight means you have a higher risk for many other health problems, especially diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Dietary Guidelines. The dietary guidelines of the Arizona Heart Institute follow the concept of the Food Guide Pyramid developed by the United States Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, which was updated in 2005 to reflect changing lifestyles and nutritional requirements.

The Dietary Guidelines describe a healthy diet as one that:
•Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.
•Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts; and is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars.

Take care of diabetes. High blood sugars—especially when combined with high blood pressure and abnormal blood fats, as they so often are in diabetes, damage blood vessels. In fact, blood vessel damage or cardiovascular disease causes all the long-term health problems associated with diabetes. Heart attacks, stroke and circulation problems are well-known forms of cardiovascular disease.

Take Charge: Remember whose blood vessels, health and life are at stake. You are the best person to lead because you have the most to gain.

Inform Yourself: A good diabetes education program is essential.

Monitor Standards of Care: Remind your health care provider when key tests and referrals are due.

Keep Records: Get copies of all your lab results. Keep them together and notice if things change, ask why!

Take Medicines as Prescribed: Most people need one or more medicines to keep blood sugars in the target range. Different medicines work in different ways. Taking more than one kind allows them to work together to provide stronger diabetes treatment. The number and type of medicines you need will probably change over time.

Be aware of chest pain. Be sure to contact your doctor immediately if you suffer from pain in your chest, shoulder, neck or jaw. Also notify your doctor if you experience shortness of breath or nausea that comes on quickly. If you are having a heart attack, the faster you can get to the hospital, the less damage will happen to your heart. Every second counts!

Symptoms. You may experience any or all of the following symptoms. They may vary in intensity and may come and go. These symptoms should not be ignored!
•Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the chest usually lasting longer than two minutes.
•Pain radiating to the shoulders, neck, jaw, arms or back.
•Dizziness, fainting, sweating, nausea, shortness of breath or weakness.

Know your family history. If one or more members of your family (parent, sister or brother) have a history of cardiovascular disease, your chances of developing heart disease are increased. Just because three is a family history, however, does not mean that you are doomed to develop the disease yourself. It’s important to separate hereditary from environmental influences. If you have a family history of heart disease, but get adequate exercise, eat a heart healthy diet, and do not smoke, your own risk may be far less than that of other family members.

Age and Gender. As you age, your risk of heart disease increases. Men generally develop coronary artery disease at a much younger age than women, however. Men under 45 are 10 times as likely to develop coronary artery disease as women the same age. This difference between the sexes decreases as people age.

Race. The incidence of heart disease is higher among African Americans than whites. Three times as many African Americans have extremely high blood pressure, a major risk factor.

To learn more about heart disease or to contact a physician at the Arizona Heart Institute visit http://www.azheart.com/ or call (602)266-2200.

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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