This is the perfect time for each of us to take a look at the health of our heart and cardiovascular system. Do you know what your risk is for heart disease? Do you know what you can do to minimize your risk?
Risk factors are the circumstances that make a person more likely to develop a disease. Some risk factors for heart disease, such as age (45 or older for men, 55 or older for women) and family history of early heart disease, can't be changed. But there are many risk factors for heart disease that you can do something about, such as:
- Controlling high blood pressure
- Diabetes control
- Stop smoking
- Lose weight if you are overweight
- Exercise more
Fidelis Care's topic of the month focuses on two important cardiac risk factors - blood pressure and cholesterol.
High Blood Pressure-What is it?
Every person needs blood pressure to live. Without it, blood wouldn't be able to travel through the body to carry oxygen and fuel your organs. Systolic blood pressure measures pressure when the heart is beating. Diastolic blood pressure measures the pressure when the heart is resting between beats. The systolic pressure is stated first and the diastolic pressure comes second. For example: 120/80 (120 over 80) means that the systolic pressure is 120 and the diastolic pressure is 80.
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, damages blood vessels. Over time, it can lead to stroke, heart attack, congestive heart failure or kidney failure. Blood pressure of less than 120 over 80 is considered a normal reading for people 18 and over. A blood pressure reading equal to or greater than 140 over 90 is considered high in people over the age of 18. As many as 50 million adults and children in this country- one in five Americans-have hypertension.
What Causes High Blood Pressure?
- High salt intake
- High cholesterol
- Heavy and regular use of alcohol
- Lack of exercise
- Being African American or Hispanic
- Family history
Prevention: What can you do?
- Maintain a normal weight for your height.
- Exercise regularly. This can help prevent you from becoming overweight or help you in losing pounds if you need to. Exercise also helps keep your heart and blood vessels strong and healthy.
- Eat a healthy diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables.
- Don't smoke. Smoking and high blood pressure are major risk factors for having a heart attack or stroke later in life.
- Keep your stress levels in check. It may help to practice relaxation techniques such as yoga or deep breathing exercises.
- Decrease your sodium (salt) intake. Consuming less sodium has been proven to help lower blood pressure in some people and may prevent some from developing high blood pressure in the first place.
- Avoid drinking too much alcohol, which is associated with high blood pressure.
- Know your blood pressure. Have it checked regularly because, although high blood pressure is more common in adults, hypertension can occur at any age.
High Blood Cholesterol-What Is It?
Cholesterol, a waxy substance produced by the liver and found in certain foods, is needed to make vitamin D and some hormones, build cell walls, and create bile salts that help you digest. Your body actually produces the cholesterol it needs, but it can be hard to avoid because so many foods have cholesterol in them.
Because cholesterol can't travel alone through the bloodstream, it has to combine with certain proteins. When this happens, the cholesterol and protein form a lipoprotein together. The two most important types of lipoproteins are high-density lipoproteins (or HDL) and low-density lipoproteins (or LDL). LDL cholesterol is usually called "bad cholesterol" and HDL cholesterol is called "good cholesterol" because of their different effects on the body. Most cholesterol is LDL cholesterol, and this is the kind that's most likely to clog blood vessels. Plaque builds up on artery walls, eventually making them narrow, and sometimes blocking them completely. When plaque builds up on an artery going to the heart, the heart does not get enough blood and you may experience chest discomfort. This is a symptom of heart disease. When plaque builds up and blocks a heart artery completely, the result is a heart attack. It is important to have your cholesterol checked regularly by your doctor to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Prevention: What can you do?
- Exercise regularly
- Eat a healthier diet that is low in fats and cholesterol
- Don't smoke
- Lose weight if you are overweight and maintain a healthy weight
Some people also benefit from lipid lowering medications. Each person should work with his or her doctor to decide the best plan for monitoring and managing their cholesterol.
Know the Signs of a Heart Attack:
- Chest pain or chest discomfort
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body; one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Difficulty breathing
Women may experience different signs of a heart attack which include:
- Tightness, pressure, squeezing or pain in the chest, throat, upper abdomen, back or neck that may travel to the jaw, down the left arm, and cause tingling or numbness
- Discomfort with light headedness, fainting, or sweating
- Difficulty breathing that occurs with or without exertion and/or waking up breathless at night
- Nausea/indigestion-like symptoms, heartburn and/or feeling sick to your stomach
- Fatigue, general weakness, and/or lack of energy
- Palpitations, unexplained anxiety, or paleness.
For more information on High Blood Pressure, click on the link: http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4650.
For more information on cholesterol levels, click on the link: http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4500.
For more information on Smoking Cessation, click on the link: http://www.nysmokefree.com/newweb/default.aspx.
For Fidelis Newsletter Articles on these topics, click on the links below: