Heart Disease and You: Risks, Treatment, Prevention, and More
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The statistics on heart disease are staggering. In the United States alone, it is estimated that one in every four deaths each year is related to heart disease. That’s roughly 610,000 people annually, making it the leading cause of death for both men and women.
This means that there is a very good chance that heart disease will affect you or someone you love. The good news is that many forms of heart disease can be prevented, treated, or controlled with healthy lifestyle choices, supplements, and medical intervention.
What Is Heart Disease?
Heart disease is an umbrella term that describes any disease directly affecting the heart. You may hear the term cardiovascular disease used in place of heart disease, but that is typically a more specialized condition that involves blood vessels being blocked or narrowed. Conditions that cause a narrowing of blood vessels do fall under the heart disease umbrella, though.
Because the term heart disease is so broad, there are a wide variety of conditions that fall into this category. Some of them are very dangerous and require immediate medical attention. Others are considered relatively benign and are typically not a major concern.
Regardless, if you suspect any type of heart disease, it’s best to seek medical help to get a more detailed diagnosis and treatment plan.
How the Heart Works
Before taking an in-depth look at the types of heart disease, their symptoms, and potential ways to control your risks of heart disease, it’s important to understand how the heart works.
Your heart is a muscle working 24/7 in the center of your circulatory system. Its job is to deliver blood, oxygen, and nutrients throughout the body. Your heart is divided into four chambers and two sides.
The right side of your heart receives the “old blood,” i.e., blood that has been through your body and is now depleted of oxygen. It sends that deoxygenated blood to your lungs to pick up more oxygen and dump off carbon dioxide. Then the left side of your heart gets that newly oxygenated blood and pumps it out through your arteries to the rest of your body.
Those are the basic mechanics of your heart. If any of the mechanics are not working correctly, or not working up to their potential, you may develop heart disease.
The next question is, how does your heart regulate itself? Your body has an electrical system that controls the timing. It’s strange to think of the body as having electrical signals and using electricity to live, but it’s true.
The body’s electrical system exists in your atoms, which are made up of positive protons and negative electrons. There are also neutrons, which carry no charge of their own.
The careful balance of this system gives your body the power to function and it keeps your heart pumping. If there’s a problem with the electrical system in your body that can cause heart disease.
Types of Heart Disease
There are many different types of heart disease. Some are considered congenital, meaning they are already present at birth, and others develop over time. Below are a few of the more common types of heart disease, but there are many more.
Myocardial Infarction (Heart Attack)
A myocardial infarction is more commonly known as a heart attack, and it’s probably the thing most people think of when they think of heart disease. A heart attack occurs when the heart or part of the heart is deprived of blood and oxygen due to a blockage. That blockage may be brief and temporary, or it may be a major event.
If a person has a heart attack, it’s crucial to get medical help immediately because, in some situations, the damage can be reversed. In other cases, the damage may be permanent but not immediately fatal.
Sudden Cardiac Arrest
Sudden cardiac arrest is the precursor to sudden cardiac death, which is as serious as it sounds. In fact, it’s the largest cause of natural deaths in the United States, accounting for nearly half of all heart disease deaths. This is not the same as a heart attack, but it can happen during one.
While a heart attack is centered around the heart not getting enough oxygen-rich blood, a sudden cardiac death is centered around the heart’s electrical system.
In a sudden cardiac arrest, the electrical system malfunctions, becomes very irregular, and the normal flow of blood throughout the body is interrupted. When the brain has been deprived of oxygen-rich blood for too long, the person loses consciousness. Sudden cardiac death will occur if this condition is left untreated.
Coronary Artery Disease
This is a blockage in the coronary arteries that deprives the muscles of the heart of the blood and oxygen they require. This can lead to death and usually occurs in people with a history of heart damage through a heart attack or other coronary event.
This is an interesting problem because it’s a heart condition that’s often cause by other heart conditions. Heart failure happens when the heart isn’t pumping enough blood to function as it should.
Heart failure is not a heart attack and does not come on suddenly. Typically, this condition begins slowly and worsens over time.
When the heart’s electrical system is not functioning normally, it can cause the heartbeat to behave erratically. Skipped beats, a fast pace, or slowed beats are typically reported.
While an arrhythmia needs to be evaluated by a physician because it can be life threatening, it is also common for people in excellent health to experience irregular heart beats once in a while.
Heart defects are typically obstructions that block the flow of blood. They can occur in several different parts of the body and may need surgery to be repaired.
Peripheral Arterial Disease
This is one of the diseases that fall under the umbrella of heart disease, but the problem is actually situated in the arteries of the body. Sometimes those affected arteries are in the feet and legs, so they’re quite removed from the heart.
With peripheral arterial disease, the blockage in the arteries prevents adequate blood flow, depriving the extremities of oxygen and vital nutrients.
This is another disease that affects the heart, but it’s actually an infection in the pericardium, the sac that holds the heart.
A heart murmur is caused by blood flowing through the heart valves. They usually do not require any treatment and are rather benign. That said, they do need to be evaluated by a physician because there are times when a heart murmur is caused by a damaged or overworked valve in the heart.
Symptoms of Heart Disease
The symptoms of heart disease depend on what type you have, but there are some overarching conditions of the heart with similar symptoms.
Heart disease in the blood vessels, which is usually a blockage in the veins or arteries, includes symptoms such as:
♦ Chest pain
♦ Shortness of breath
♦ Pain, numbness, weakness, or cold feelings in your extremities
♦ Pain in your neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen, or back
Arrhythmias or irregular heart beats have some similar symptoms:
♦ A fluttering feeling
♦ Racing heartbeat (tachycardia)
♦ Sluggish heartbeat (bradycardia)
♦ Chest pain or pressure
♦ Shortness of breath
♦ Fainting or a feeling that you’re about to faint
Heart defects are something you’re born with, and they’re usually detected when the person is still a child. Signs to look for in children include:
♦ Gray or blue skin color (cyanosis)
♦ Swelling in the legs, abdomen, or around the eyes
♦ Shortness of breath during feedings, especially for infants
♦ Shortness of breath during activity, for older children and even adults
♦ Swelling in the hands and feet
Potential emergency situations with the heart can include:
♦ Chest pain
♦ Shortness of breath
If someone is having these symptoms, it’s crucial to get them medical care immediately.
Heart Disease Risk Factors
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that about half of the population of the United States of America has at least one of the following three risk factors for heart disease:
♦ High blood pressure
♦ High cholesterol
♦ Are a smoker
They also list other medical conditions and lifestyle choices as potential risk factors:
♦ Having diabetes
♦ Being overweight or obese
♦ Having a poor diet
♦ Physical inactivity
♦ Excessive use of alcohol
The Mayo Clinic’s list of heart disease risk factors goes further. In addition to the ones listed above, they include:
♦ Age: The older you get the greater your chance of having narrowed arteries and a weakened heart muscle.
♦ Sex: Men are at greater risk of heart disease.
♦ Menopause: A woman’s odds of getting heart disease increases after menopause.
♦ Heredity: If there’s a family history of heart disease, especially coronary artery disease, then your odds increase.
♦ Stress: Persistent stress can damage the arteries and elevate your risk factors.
♦ Poor hygiene: Having poor hygiene habits can put you at risk for viral or bacterial infections of the heart.
♦ Poor dental health: This is an interesting area and new information is coming out regularly. While it cannot be categorically stated that poor dental health will cause heart disease, it does appear to be a risk factor, especially when gum disease is involved.
Ways to Prevent or Manage Heart Disease
The good news is that many types of heart disease can be prevented or managed by making some lifestyle changes. The following changes can have an immediate effect on your heart health.
While some are accomplished fairly quickly, others will take time and effort.
♦ Quit smoking
♦ Manage high blood pressure
♦ Control your high cholesterol
♦ Get diabetes and blood sugar levels under control
♦ Eat a low-salt diet
♦ Avoid saturated fats whenever possible
♦ Achieve and then maintain a healthy weight
♦ Reduce and manage your stress levels
♦ Practice good hygiene
♦ Practice good oral hygiene and have regular dental visits
What Is a Heart-Healthy Diet?
In addition to some lifestyle changes, you’ll notice that your diet can play a big role in your efforts to prevent heart disease. The Mayo Clinic suggests taking the following steps to restructure your diet and start eating for your heart.
Changing your diet successfully can take work, time, research, and discipline. It’s not a quick fix because it’s got to be one you can stick to for the rest of your life to get the most benefit from it.
These tips will help you get on the right track and slowly move toward the place you should be with a diet that supports heart health.
Control Portion Size
Learning portion size is essential to eating a healthy diet. What you get served in a restaurant is almost never a properly sized portion, in fact, sometimes it’s an entire day’s worth of calories.
More Fresh Fruits, Vegetables, and Whole Grains
Loaded with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients your body needs to work effectively, these plant-based gems are the key to good health. As an added bonus, they’re low in calories so you can eat more. Plus, they’re high in fiber, so you feel more full.
Whole grains give you a lot of fiber and nutrients that you simply don’t find in refined flour and other grains. Learn how to incorporate more whole grains into your diet and where you can swap regular ingredients for ones made with whole grains.
Watch Your Fats
Saturated fats and trans fats are a big no-no when going on a heart-healthy diet. Omitting them can lower your cholesterol and your risk of plaque build up in your arteries.
Instead, opt for low-fat substitutes, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats. They’re still high in calories, though, so moderation is a good thing.
Eat Low-Fat Proteins
Lean meats, poultry, fish, low-fat dairy, and eggs are excellent sources of protein that are heart healthy. Some fish, such as salmon and mackerel, contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for lowering your blood fat and triglycerides.
Sodium contributes to high blood pressure. If you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure, your doctor has no doubt told you to limit salt. This is a good recommendation for everyone, as there are gobs of salt in a lot of the foods we regularly eat.
The American Heart Association suggests limiting sodium for healthy individuals to 2300 mg per day; that’s only one teaspoon. Ideally, it should only be a bit more than half that amount, at only 1500 mg per day.
Plan for Success
Plan your meals in advance while keeping your new diet rules in mind. This will lessen the likelihood that you’ll indulge or binge on something you shouldn’t. It also is a great way to control your portion sizes.
Have a Treat
Being too restrictive can lead to failure or frustration. Remember: Just because you can be strict for a couple weeks doesn’t mean you should attempt 100% adherence forever.
Don’t skip your birthday cake because you’re trying to be heart healthy—have a small piece. Celebrate special occasions, and once in a while, just because. Just make sure that treating yourself doesn’t become a habit.
While those are the recommendations of the Mayo Clinic, there are other steps you can take in regard to what you consume that can have a great effect on your heart health.
Many studies have been done on alcohol and heart health. What’s interesting is they can have very different results. The current understanding is that moderate amounts of alcohol can increase the good cholesterol levels, which in turn helps prevent clogging from the bad cholesterol. But moderation is key. When alcohol is done in excess the heart rate rises and there is detrimental stress put on your heart.
Cut Back on Sugar
Even if you’re not diabetic or overweight, a sugar-heavy diet can raise your risk of getting heart disease. In fact, eating sugar-rich foods raises the likelihood of overeating in general, meaning you become more likely to cheat on your diet, especially in terms of eating too much salt or sugar.
If you’re not getting enough of the nutrients your body needs through the foods you eat, supplements can be a great way to boost your health and make sure you’re fueling your body correctly.
While most people take multivitamins, you are better off choosing supplements with only the nutrients in which you are deficient.
Try the DASH Diet
If you have high blood pressure, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH diet) is designed just for you. It’s a medically backed diet that can help you take control of your blood pressure and start eating for health.
It seems like a lot of steps to take to manage your heart disease or to prevent it, but it really all comes down to eating sensibly and making sure to get all of the nutrients your body needs.
If you already have a preexisting condition that can lead to heart disease, you also need to manage that through your diet and lifestyle plus any additional recommendations your doctor makes.
How Supplements Can Help With Heart Disease
If you’ve changed your diet but are still having a hard time eating all the nutrients you need while staying at your caloric guidelines, you’re not alone. Many people find that this is an issue for them.
While they want to get all the nutritional benefits they can, they certainly don’t want to add excess calories. This is where supplements can come into play and give you the nutrition your body craves.
If you’re thinking about adding some supplements to your diet, the following may have positive effects on your heart health.
As mentioned above, eating the right kinds of fish (and some other foods) can give you omega-3 fatty acids, which are great at lowering your triglycerides and preventing buildup in your arteries.
Krill oil also gives you the omega-3s you want in a potent dose that supports cholesterol health. You may have heard that fish oil is good for your heart, think of krill oil as an upgrade. It packs a more powerful dose of nutrients because it’s better absorbed, and it is loaded with antioxidants, including astaxanthin.
There’s been a lot of news about turmeric and curcumin lately. It’s become the latest supplement trend and for good reason—turmeric has a lot of health benefits.
Curcumin is particularly advantageous because of positive effects it can have on reversing some parts of the process leading to heart disease as well as improving the function of the endothelium, the lining of your blood vessels. Problems with the endothelium can lead to improper blood pressure regulation, poor blood clotting, and more.
Studies have also found that it can reduce the number of heart attacks a patient has after surgery.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
CoQ10 is found in every cell in your body and is essential for cell growth and maintenance. It’s also an antioxidant, so it protects your body from free radicals. The Cleveland Heart Lab has reviewed the research and says it may have significant benefits for people with cardiovascular disease.
How to Choose the Best Heart Supplement
There are a lot of supplements on the market, making it difficult to choose which one you want to take. If you’ve decided that a supplement is right for you, the following tips might help you make an informed decision:
♦ Ingredient list: Put a priority on all-natural ingredients.
♦ Physician formula: Make sure a physician is involved in the formulation for an effective mix of beneficial ingredients.
♦ Reviews: Always check the reviews to see what others are saying.
♦ Trusted manufacturers: Because the FDA does not control supplements, it’s best to always stick with a trusted brand. Look for third-party testing, scientific research to back up their claims, and their customer service policies.
The Bottom Line
Heart disease is nothing to take lightly. Your heart is the center of your circulatory system and is responsible for delivering nutrients and oxygen throughout your body.
Heart disease is not one specific condition, though, it’s a blanket term that’s used to encompass several different issues, each one affecting the heart’s performance in some way. Some common problems include blockages in the blood vessels, electrical system issues, and heart muscle weakness.
The good news is that heart disease can be managed or prevented. A healthy lifestyle will strengthen your odds of preventing heart disease. In addition to managing pre-existing conditions, exercising, and quitting smoking, adding supplements to a heart-healthy diet can ensure that you’re getting what your body needs to support your heart and prevent heart disease.