This post was written based on a presentation by Hollace Chastain, MD, PPG – Cardiology, Parkview Heart Institute.
As we age, it’s crucial that we become more aware of the actions we can (and should) take to prevent and detect cardiovascular conditions as early as possible. Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for all Americans, and while some of the risk factors are unavoidable, others can be modified for a healthier future. Here, we will breakdown some of the biggest things to know in regard to cardiovascular wellness.
A common culprit
Coronary artery disease (CAD), also known as atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, is the most common presentation of heart disease, and refers to plaque build-up that leads to blockages in the arteries. Over time, this makes the arteries become narrow and rigid, restricting blood flow that carries vital oxygen and nutrients to the heart. As plaque deposits grow, it increases the risk for blood clots and heart attack.
Screenings for CAD
A HeartSmart scan, which you can schedule without a referral, scans the chest and heart looking for calcium in the arteries. While detecting calcium doesn’t directly equal blocked arteries, it does indicate inflammation and an increased risk of blockage.
More on HeartSmart:
Symptoms can be sneaky
One of the biggest things we hear is that people aren’t sure if their symptoms indicate a cardiac emergency. I tell people, when in doubt, go get it checked out. Don’t ignore symptoms or sit at home when you’re concerned. Time is muscle and quick intervention makes a difference.
While there are common symptoms, there are always outliers. Also, these signs of trouble can be intermittent, meaning they can come and go. Certainly, if you are experiencing any discomfort or noticeable physical symptoms regularly, particularly at rest, it’s worth investigating with your primary care provider.
Common signs of heart blockage or heart attack include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Exercise intolerance
- Arm or jaw pain
- Extreme sweating
More on symptoms:
Modifiable and nonmodifiable risk factors
Lifestyle behaviors may lead to more than 50% of heart illnesses. Many of the conditions most often tied to CAD, including high blood pressure (hypertension), type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and other diseases, can be prevented or reversed though preventive care and healthy lifestyle choices.
Modifiable risk factors for heart disease
- Physical inactivity
- Nutritional intake
- Blood pressure
- Cholesterol levels
- Glucose levels
- Tobacco and alcohol use
- Stress management
When it comes to healthy shifts, simply put, we should eat less, move more and be mindful of our stress. It’s also worth mentioning, every adult should have a primary care provider and have regular checkups at least every two to three years.
Nonmodifiable risk factors for heart disease
- Family history
As we get older, our risk of heart disease goes up, and by 75, we’re in the high-risk group for heart disease, no matter what. Age brings a risk of calcification, so awareness is important.
More on risk factors:
Women and heart health: Risk factors
Why women don’t always recognize their heart disease risk
Do you know your risk of heart attack or stroke?
Are there natural approaches to treating heart disease?
The connection between your weight and cardiovascular risk
What is hypertension
A natural way to lower blood pressure
Five ways to protect your heart from stress
Working with your primary care provider to identify risk factors and address them to reduce your likelihood of having a serious cardiac event is critical for longevity. Talk to your doctor about screenings, smoking cessation options, appropriate exercise and your lab results and stay on top of your cardiovascular health.