Handling Heart Disease

February 1, 2011

Screen shot 2011-01-21 at 10.17.48 AMThe St. Christopher Fund has received over 100 applications due to cardiac issues in 2010 alone.  Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the US, resulting in 25.4% of all deaths.  Heart disease is the number one killer for people from all ethnicities. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that heart disease will cost the United States $316.4 billion this year, which includes the cost of health care services, medications, and lost productivity.

The most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD), which can cause heart attacks, angina, heart failure, and arrhythmias. CAD occurs when plaque builds up in the coronary arteries (the arteries that supply blood to the heart). Over time, the plaque build up causes the arteries to narrow and can lead to angina. Angina is the most common symptom of CAD and it causes chest pain/discomfort due to the heart muscle not getting enough blood.  If the heart muscle is weakened too much, it can lead to an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) or even heart failure.

The risk factors for heart disease include having high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, using tobacco, being obese, having a diet high in saturated fats, salt and cholesterol, being physically inactive, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, and having a family history of heart disease. Your doctor can determine your risk of having CAD by checking your blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol.

For some people, CAD is first determined when a person has a heart attack.  When plaque build-up completely blocks a coronary artery or when plaque breaks off and clots a coronary artery, a heart attack occurs.  According to the American Heart Association, approximately 785,000 Americans have a first heart attack and another 470,000 have repeat attacks each year.   There are 5 major signs/symptoms of heart attack that you should be aware of:

1)  Shortness of breath when walking up an incline or one flight of steps

2)  Chest pain or discomfort

3)  Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck or back

4)  Feeling weak or tired all of the time, with episodes light-headedness or faintness

5)  Pain or discomfort in arms or shoulder

It is vitally important to get treatment for a heart attack immediately.

If you think someone is having a heart attack, call 9-1-1.  The chances of surviving a heart attack are greater the faster treatment begins. If you have the more subtle symptoms listed above and have the risk factors mentioned, get a check up and become proactive.
In order to prevent CAD and heart attacks, follow these guidelines:

•Maintain a healthy weight.  If you know your weight and height, you can calculate your BMI at CDC’s Assessing Your Weight Web site.
•Don’t smoke.  For more information about tobacco use and quitting, see CDC’s Smoking & Tobacco Use Web site.
•Eat a healthy diet.  For more information on healthy diet and nutrition, see CDC’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Program Web site.
•Exercise at least 30 minutes/day, 5 days/week.
•Limit alcohol use
•Have your cholesterol checked
•Monitor your blood pressure
•Take medications as instructed
•Manage your diabetes
•Talk to your doctor about your risk factors