February is American Heart Month and there is no better time to discuss and raise awareness about heart disease. The major risk factors for heart disease are diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, physical inactivity and obesity. Unfortunately heart disease also has a genetic predisposition.
The term heart disease describes many different conditions. The most common form of heart disease is known as coronary artery disease or ischemic heart disease. These conditions result from plaque accumulation within the arteries of the heart, which reduces blood flow to the heart and increases the risk of a heart attack and other heart complications. Other forms of heart disease include:
• Irregular heart rhythms-also known as arrhythmias
• A weak heart muscle-also known as cardiomyopathy
• Heart failure
• Heart valve problems
A heart attack occurs when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart is severely reduced or cut off completely. The most common symptoms include chest pain or discomfort that may feel like a pressure, squeezing, and/or tightness in the chest. Other symptoms include discomfort that may radiate to your left armor jaw; shortness of breath; sweating and/or breaking out in a cold sweat, and/or lightheadedness.
I cannot stress enough that time matters; if you think that you or someone you’re with is having a heart attack, call 911 immediately.
Considering the potential health dangers of heart disease and a heart attack, prevention is key. It is much easier to prevent heart disease than it is to treat heart disease. Prevention involves minimizing the aforementioned cardiac risk factors.
High blood pressure is a major contributor to heart disease. The heart pumps blood through a network of arteries, veins and capillaries. The moving blood pushes against the arterial walls and this force is measured as blood pressure. High blood pressure usually results from the tightening or hardening of very small arteries that regulate the blood flow through the body. As these arteries tighten or harden, the heart has to work harder to pump blood through those vessels.
High blood pressure is dangerous because it usually does not cause symptoms until it has reached more advanced stages. Annual physical exams are, therefore, important in detecting and/or monitoring high blood pressure. High blood pressure can be controlled by eating a low salt diet, losing weight and beginning a regular exercise program. Additionally, learning to manage stress and avoiding smoking can help. Medications also are available if these lifestyle changes do not help control your blood pressure.
All the cardiologists here in our practice work closely with the team from the Bernie Guida Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation Center which was renovated in 2014. The center is located on Level C of Bristol Hospital; it’s about 3,000 square feet and includes treadmills and stationary bikes. Additionally, the center is part of Bristol Hospital’s Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program which is designed to help patients reach their highest level of wellness through exercise training, counseling and support following a heart attack or open heart surgery. Those who are at a high risk for heart disease also are referred by their physician to the center.