There are several things we can all do to improve our heart health. First, and foremost, is to educate ourselves and have a thorough understanding of our heart, how it works, and how it is connected with our overall physical, psychological and emotional health. Our heart is much more than a pump.
Develop A Healthy Lifestyle Better lifestyle habits can help you reduce your risk for most health problems. As the #1 killer of Americans, cardiovascular disease has a tremendous impact on each of us as individuals, and our society. On the following pages are key elements to consider. If you are interested in making lifestyle changes, that is the first step! Many of the action items described may seem daunting at first-move forward as you can-each small step can add up to big changes!
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Risk Factors for Heart Disease
Risk factors are personal traits and lifestyle habits that increase your risk of heart disease, a heart attack or a stroke.
Risk Factors You Can Control
Risk Factors You Cannot Control
- Increasing age
- Family history
- Gender (male or female)
- Previous heart attack and/or stroke
If you have never smoked, don't start. If you recently quit smoking, congratulations! You are already on the road to a healthier life. If you have difficulty staying on that road, we urge you to seek help and support. Plan now to make this a change that will last for the rest of your life, both for the sake of your own health and the health of your family and friends.
If you smoke, we urge you to quit. Why? Smoking harms your health and the health of your family members. Cigarette smoking will shorten your life and can cause many illnesses. If you smoke, it is your greatest health problem.
- Ask your health care team about programs to quit smoking.
- Ask for help from your family and friends.
- Keep busy doing things that make it hard to smoke.
- Do not spend time around people who smoke.
- Reward yourself when you are successful.
Cholesterol is a waxy material that occurs naturally in all parts of the body. Your body needs cholesterol to stay healthy. But too much clogs pathways that deliver blood and oxygen to the heart, brain and other organs. This can lead to a greater risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Depending on your health condition, your physician may recommend lower levels. Cholesterol levels for heart health are:
- Total cholesterol less than 200 mg/dl
- Triglycerides less than 150 mg/dl
- HDL (good cholesterol) greater than 45 mg/dl
- LDL (bad cholesterol) less than 130 mg/dl (If you have known heart disease or diabetes, your LDL goal may be less than 100mg/dl.)
Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of the arteries. Blood pressure rises and falls during the day. When blood pressure stays high over time, it is called high blood pressure or hypertension, and you can have it without knowing it. High blood pressure is dangerous because it makes the heart work too hard and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, and can also result in other conditions such as congestive heart failure, kidney disease and blindness. You should see your doctor at least once a year to have your blood pressure checked.
Systolic (top number)
Less than 120
140 or more
Diastolic (bottom number)
Less than 80
90 or more
- Systolic blood pressure is the force of blood in the arteries as the heart beats. It is shown as the top number in a blood pressure reading.
- Diastolic blood pressure is the force of blood in the arteries as the heart relaxes between beats. It is shown as the bottom number in a blood pressure reading.
Diabetes is a serious medical condition but it can be treated. It is a chronic disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone that the body needs to change sugar, starches and other food into energy you need for daily life.
There are two types of diabetes:
- Type 1 is usually diagnosed in children and young adults and used to be known as juvenile diabetes. The body does not make the insulin it needs.
- Type 2 is the most common form of diabetes. Either the body does not produce enough insulin or the body's cells ignore the insulin. A person may have type 2 diabetes for many years before noticing any symptoms. The recently completed Diabetes Prevention Program Study showed that people can prevent or delay the development of type 2 diabetes by making changes in their diet and by increasing their level of physical activity.
If diabetes is ignored or left untreated, high glucose (sugar) levels over many years can lead to blindness, stroke, kidney disease and amputation. If you have any of the symptoms below, please talk to your doctor.
- Changes in appetite or unusual thirst
- Frequent urination
- Reoccurring infections of the skin, gums, vagina or bladder
- Dry, itchy skin
- Tingling or numbness in the legs, feet or hands
- Feeling tired or run down
- Sores or cuts that are slow to heal
- Blurry vision
- Sexual problems
Obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death after smoking and is a major risk factor for heart disease. We all need some fat in our bodies but obesity body fat levels are too much and can be a serious medical disease. Adopting healthy habits for lifelong weight control includes regular physical activity and eating the right foods. Try the following tips to lose weight and keep it off:
- Write down diet and exercise patterns in a daily diary.
- Eat a low-calorie diet.
- Eat fewer calories from fat.
- Use up calories by exercising often - every day, if possible.
- Weigh yourself regularly and set realistic goals you can meet.
- Ask for support from family and friends.
Regular physical activity (exercise) can reduce your risk of heart attack, lower your blood pressure and decrease your insulin needs if you are diabetic. It also improves the fitness of the heart and lungs and has tremendous health benefits. Adults should exercise moderately for at least 30 minutes most days of the week. Activities include:
- Walking Hiking
- Dancing Bicycling
- Jogging Roller Skating
- Check with your doctor before beginning any physical activity or exercise program.
- Choose an activity you like and do it on a regular basis.
- Start slowly and increase time and level of activity little by little as your heart and muscles become stronger.
- Slow down and rest if you develop the following symptoms:
- Unusual shortness of breath or fatigue
- Uncomfortable feeling in your chest
- Heartbeats that are hard and fast (palpitations)
- Any symptoms that worry you
- Call your doctor if the symptoms do not go away with rest.
Following a low-fat diet can help lower your cholesterol and decrease your risk of heart disease. There are two different types of fat: saturated (bad) and unsaturated (good).
- Saturated fats are found in meat, whole milk, whole milk products, butter, fried products and pastries.
- Unsaturated fats include olive oil, vegetable oil and canola oil, and are found in nuts and fish. Foods high in fat should be limited to no more than 30 percent of total calories from fat and less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat.
- Avoid foods prepared with trans fat or partially hydrogenated oils.
Reduce the amount of salt (sodium) in your diet to help reduce your blood pressure and also prevent or improve heart failure symptoms. Salt can cause extra fluid to build up in your body making your heart work harder. It also can cause symptoms such as swelling of the ankles, feet or abdomen; shortness of breath and weight gain. Make small changes to limit the amount of salt in your diet, such as: avoid salt while cooking or at the table and avoid foods high in salt (e.g., canned foods, salted snacks, smoked/cured meats and convenience foods.)
Download a Medication Form to list YOUR medications and supplements (PDF).
Medicine is an important part of your health care plan and will help you get well. Do not stop taking your medications without contacting your doctor, even if you feel better. Important guidelines for taking medications:
- Always carry a list of medications with you. Include name and dose of all prescription and non-prescription medications. List any allergies and the reaction you had to them.
- Refill your medications before you run out completely. Plan ahead for weekends and holidays, or periods of severe weather (e.g., snowstorms).
- Fill all your prescriptions at the same pharmacy; your pharmacist can check for drugs that should not be taken together.
- Never take medication in the dark.
- Always read the labels on your medication bottles.
- Take medications exactly as ordered by your doctor.
- Do not skip or take extra doses. You may have serious side effects from taking too much or too little of a medication. If you miss a dose or take too much, call your doctor or pharmacist.
- Do not let someone else take your medication and do not take any medication not prescribed for you.
- Make sure to tell all doctors or dentists what medications you are taking.
- If you are taking a long-acting or sustained-release form of a medication, you must swallow it whole. Do not break, chew or crush pills before swallowing.
- Check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any over-the-counter or non-prescription medications, herbs, holistic remedies or supplements.
- Report side effects and reactions to your doctor.
Heart disease, also referred to as coronary artery disease, occurs when the coronary arteries become narrowed or partially blocked, reducing the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart. Most likely this is caused by fatty deposits called plaque building up on the artery walls in a process called atherosclerosis, also known as hardening of the arteries. When this happens, you might feel pain or discomfort in your chest, back, neck or arms. Doctors call this angina or chest discomfort. If blood cannot flow to the heart, the muscle begins to die, causing a heart attack.
Warning signs of a heart attack may be:
- Pain or discomfort in the chest, arms, shoulder, neck, back or jaw that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back.
- Pain or discomfort that feels like pressure, burning, squeezing, fullness, tightness, aching, crushing or heaviness.
Other signs or symptoms may include: sweating, nausea, light-headedness, fainting or shortness of breath.
Women may or may not have chest pain and may have less common signs of heart attack, including stomach pain, difficulty breathing, unexplained anxiety, weakness or tiredness.
If you experience pain or discomfort that lasts for more than a few minutes, dial 9-1-1.
Heart failure occurs when your heart does not pump blood as well as it should to the rest of your body. When the heart doesn't pump well, the rest of the body does not get the oxygen and nutrients it needs. Heart failure also causes blood to back up into the lungs and other tissues of the body. Common causes of heart failure are heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, valve disease, congenital heart disease, and cardiomyopathy. Call your doctor if you experience any of the symptoms below:
- Shortness of breath
- Breathing problems that make it hard for you to sleep at night
- Suddenly gaining three pounds in one day or five pounds over a week
- Swelling (edema) in the feet, ankles, legs or abdomen
- Feeling tired from everyday activities
- Urinating less often
If you have been diagnosed with heart failure, it is very important to:
- Cut down on salt in your diet and do not add salt to your food.
- Keep track of your symptoms and contact your doctor if your symptoms increase.
- Weigh yourself every day. Call your doctor if you suddenly gain three pounds in one day or five pounds over a week.
- Take your medications as directed.
- Try to do some kind of physical activity every day.
- Have regular follow-up appointments with your physician.
A stroke is when blood stops flowing to your brain and can occur when a blood vessel becomes blocked or bursts. This causes that part of the brain to stop working. It also affects the part of the body the brain controls. A TIA (transient ischemic attack), or stroke warning, occurs the same way. Stroke can be caused by high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking or atherosclerosis. Call 911 immediately if you have any of the warning signs below:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on only one side of the body
- Sudden confusion; trouble speaking or understanding
- Sudden trouble seeing out of one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or lack of coordination
- Sudden severe headache for no reason