Can you recognize the signs of heart disease? And do you know what you can do to decrease your chances of having a heart attack?
Heart disease (“coronary artery disease”) affects the flow of blood to the heart. According the American Heart Association, one in four Americans will die from heart disease. February is National Heart Month, which is a good time to learn more about heart disease and what you can do to protect yourself against it.
The Signs of Heart Disease
Heart disease can impact any age, gender or race. It has been called “a silent killer” because it is often not diagnosed in a person until they have had a heart attack, which can be fatal.
A heart attack is when there is a decrease in blood flow to the heart. In many people, plaque – a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances – forms in their coronary arteries, which carry blood to the heart. This can eventually cause a blockage, which can damage or destroy part of the heart muscle.
Here are the common signs of a heart attack:
- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It may last more than a few minutes, or go away and come back
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
- Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort
- Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, heartburn, indigestion, abdominal pain or lightheadedness
- Extreme fatigue
Different people may have different symptoms during a heart attack. The signs of a heart attack may be very different between men and women. Men are more likely to experience chest pain during a heart attack; women often experience pain in other parts of the body, such as the back, neck or jaw.
Heart attacks often involve nausea, which is often mistaken as just indigestion. Sometimes heart attacks occur suddenly, but sometimes symptoms can show up a few days in advance. It’s important to seek emergency medical help right away if you think you might be having a heart attack.
Minimizing Your Risk for Heart Disease
There are lots of things you can do to lower your chances of having a heart attack:
- Quit smoking: Also, limit your exposure to secondhand smoke.
- Know your numbers: That is, keep track of your blood pressure, cholesterol or triglycerides, which can damage your arteries.
- Lose weight: Obesity is associated with high cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood pressure and diabetes.
- Manage your diabetes: Keep your blood sugar levels under control. Elevated blood sugar can increase your risk for a heart attack.
- Know your family history: If your siblings, parents or grandparents have had heart attacks, you might be at increased risk.
- Stay active: People who exercise regularly have better cardiovascular fitness, and lower risk of heart disease.
- Eliminate or manage stress: You might respond to stress in ways that can increase your risk of a heart attack.
- Don’t abuse drugs:Stimulants, such as cocaine or amphetamines, can trigger a spasm of your coronary arteries that can cause a heart attack.
- See your OB/GYN: Pre-eclampsia – high blood pressure during pregnancy – increases the lifetime risk of heart disease.
- Watch your autoimmune system: Condition such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus can increase your risk of heart attack.
Even if you’ve already had a heart attack, you can still take steps to prevent having them:
- Take your medications: They can reduce your risk of another heart attack and help your heart function better. Ask your doctor how often you should be monitored.
- Live a healthy life: Eat a heart-healthy diet, exercise daily and get plenty of rest.
It’s your heart, and you get a say in how well it works. Learn more.