What is heart disease?
Over 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year, making it the leading cause of death for both men and women.
The term heart disease refers to several types of heart conditions.
In the United States, the most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease, which occurs when cholesterol deposits (plaque) build up inside your arteries. When plaque ruptures inside the artery it creates a blockage, causing a heart attack.
Each year, about 745,000 Americans have a heart attack.
Do you think you or someone you know is having a heart attack? Here’s what to do.
Call 911 if you or someone you know has one or more of these symptoms:
- Chest pain or discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center or left side of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
- Shortness of breath. Often comes along with chest discomfort. But it also can occur before chest discomfort.
- Other symptoms may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or light-headedness.
What causes heart disease?
Tobacco use is the number one controllable cause for heart disease and heart attack. Cigarette smoking can damage the heart and blood vessels, which increases your risk for heart conditions, such as hardening of the arteries and heart attack. Also, nicotine raises blood pressure, and carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen that your blood can carry. Exposure to other people’s secondhand smoke can increase the risk for heart disease even for nonsmokers.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. The high pressure, if not controlled, puts a strain on the heart and other major organs of your body, including your kidneys and brain.
High blood pressure is often called a “silent killer” because many people do not notice symptoms that signal high blood pressure. Lowering blood pressure by changes in lifestyle or by medication can reduce your risk for heart disease and heart attack.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made by the liver and also found in certain foods. Your liver makes enough for your body’s needs, but we often get more cholesterol from the foods we eat. If we take in more cholesterol than the body can use, the extra cholesterol can build up in the walls of the arteries, including those of the heart. This leads to narrowing of the arteries and can decrease the blood flow to the heart, brain, kidneys, and other parts of the body.
Some cholesterol is “good,” and some is “bad.” High cholesterol is the term used for high levels of low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, which are considered “bad” because they can lead to heart disease. A higher level of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, or HDL, is considered “good” because it provides some protection against heart disease.
A blood test can detect the amount of cholesterol and triglycerides (a related kind of fat) in your blood.
Diabetes also increases the risk for heart disease. Your body needs glucose (sugar) for energy. Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas that moves glucose from the blood into the tissues. If you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use its own insulin as well as it should, or both.
Diabetes causes sugars to build up in the blood. The risk of death from heart disease for adults with diabetes is two to four times higher than adults who do not have diabetes.
Obesity / Unhealthy Diet
Obesity is excess body fat. Obesity is linked to higher “bad” cholesterol and triglyceride levels and to lower “good” cholesterol levels. In addition to heart disease, obesity can also lead to high blood pressure and diabetes. Talk to Dr. Brewton about a plan to reduce your weight to a healthy level.
Diets high in saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol have been linked to heart disease and related conditions, such as atherosclerosis. Also, too much salt (sodium) in the diet can raise blood pressure levels.
Getting to a healthy weight by reducing carbs intake may reduce heart disease risk more than other dietary changes.
Not getting enough physical activity can lead to heart disease. It also can increase the chances of having other medical conditions that are risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Regular physical activity can lower your risk for heart disease.
Too Much Alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure levels and the risk for heart disease. Alcohol also increases levels of triglycerides, which can harden your arteries.
Women should have no more than 1 drink a day.
Men should have no more than 2 drinks a day.
Take these precautions to prevent heart disease:
By living a healthy lifestyle, you can help keep your blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar normal and lower your risk for heart disease and heart attack. A healthy lifestyle includes the following:
Cigarette smoking greatly increases your risk for heart disease. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, quitting will lower your risk for heart disease. Dr. Brewton can suggest proven ways to help you quit.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight or obese increases your risk for heart disease. To determine if your weight is in a healthy range, Dr. Brewton will calculate your body mass index (BMI).
Eat a Healthy Diet
Choosing healthful meal and snack options can help you maintain a healthy weight and avoid heart disease and its complications.
Be sure to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods. Eating foods low in saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol and high in fiber can help prevent high cholesterol. Limiting salt (sodium) in your diet also can lower your blood pressure. Limiting sugar in your diet can lower you blood sugar level to prevent or help control diabetes.
Increase Physical Activity
Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar levels. For adults, the Surgeon General recommends 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, like brisk walking or bicycling, every week.
Limiting or Eliminating Alcohol
Avoid drinking too much alcohol, which can raise your blood pressure. Men should have no more than two drinks per day, and women only one per day.
Medications that can help prevent or treat heart disease:
If you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes, you can take steps to lower your risk for heart disease.
Dr. Brewton will have you take a blood test to determine your blood levels of cholesterol. If you have high cholesterol, medications and lifestyle changes can help reduce your risk for heart disease.
Controlling Blood Pressure
High blood pressure usually has no symptoms, so Dr. Brewton will check it often. If you have high blood pressure, you will need to make changes in your lifestyle. Dr. Brewton may also prescribe medication when necessary to help lower your blood pressure.
Dr. Brewton may test you for diabetes. If you have diabetes, monitor your blood sugar levels carefully. Dr. Brewton may recommend certain lifestyle changes as well as potentially prescribe medication to help keep your blood sugar under good control—those actions will help reduce your risk for heart disease.
Take Your Medicine
If you take medication to treat high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes, follow Dr. Brewton’s instructions carefully. Always ask questions if you don’t understand something. Never stop taking your medication without talking to us first.