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What You Should Know About Heart Disease

It’s very likely that you or someone you know has heart disease. Heart disease is very serious: It is the most common cause of death in the U.S. and is responsible for one in every four deaths. While heart disease is very common, it’s also treatable if you know what to do. Having just a little more information can go a long way in protecting you and your loved ones from this dangerous condition. 

What Is Heart Disease?

The most common type of heart disease is coronary heart disease. It develops when a waxy substance called plaque builds up inside your coronary arteries. These are blood vessels that transport blood and oxygen to your heart.

As plaque builds up over time, it can harden inside your artery. This causes your artery to become narrow and reduces the flow of blood to your heart. Plaque can also rupture and form a blood clot inside your artery. A blood clot can block blood from flowing through your artery. When blood flow to your heart is reduced or completely cut off, you can experience chest pain, called angina, or a heart attack.

Heart disease can also weaken your heart over time. This is a condition known as heart failure. It occurs when your heart isn’t able to pump enough blood to supply your body with what it needs.

What Causes Coronary Heart Disease?

Anything that damages your arteries can lead to heart disease. When your arteries are damaged, plaque starts to build up inside of them and over time can result in heart disease, angina, or a heart attack. Some of the risk factors for heart disease include:

  • High blood pressure

  • Smoking

  • Unhealthy cholesterol levels

  • Diabetes

  • Overweight and obesity

  • A diet that’s high in saturated fat, trans fats, cholesterol, salt, and sugar

You may also be at risk of developing heart disease if you have a family history of the condition, especially if your dad or brother is diagnosed younger than age 55 or your mother or sister is diagnosed younger than age 65.

What Are the Signs of Coronary Heart Disease?

Many people don’t know they have heart disease until something serious happens, like a heart attack. That’s why it’s so important to visit your doctor regularly. Your doctor can find out whether you have any risk factors and treat them before they have a chance to harm your heart.

Visit your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms. They could indicate that you have heart failure, or an irregular heartbeat called arrhythmia, which can develop when you have heart disease:

  • Shortness of breath

  • Swelling in your ankles, feet, legs, or stomach

  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat

How Is Coronary Heart Disease Treated?

If you’re diagnosed with heart disease, your doctor may use a combination of treatments that include lifestyle changes, medication, and surgery if necessary.

Some lifestyle changes that can help treat heart disease include:

  • Eating a heart-healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and fish, low-fat dairy products, nuts, and legumes, while cutting back on saturated fat, trans fat, sugar, and sodium

  • Losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight

  • Increasing your physical activity—aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, each week

  • Controlling stress

  • Quitting smoking

If you already have blocked arteries, your doctor may need to perform a medical procedure to improve blood flow to your heart. Your doctor may recommend:

  • Percutaneous coronary intervention, in which your doctor threads a thin tube with a balloon at the end through a blood vessel to the blocked coronary artery. Once there, the doctor inflates the balloon to widen the artery and allow blood to flow through it again. Your doctor may then place a stent inside the artery to help keep it open.

  • Coronary artery bypass grafting, in which a surgeon removes arteries or veins from another part of your body and reconnects them around your damaged coronary arteries so that blood flows through the newly placed blood vessel instead.

Finally, your doctor may recommend cardiac rehabilitation to help improve your overall health and reduce your risk for future heart problems. Cardiac rehab can help you make important lifestyle changes and create a customized exercise program to meet your needs.  




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