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Healthy Heart Prescription
Written By : Syble James 
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Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in America. Cardiovascular disease includes heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), and stroke. Over 58,800,000 Americans suffer from some form of cardiovascular disease. That's about one in five Americans, with more than 2,500 Americans dying from it each day. More than two of every five Americans with cardiovascular disease die from it. Of those with heart disease, 52.2 percent are male and 47.8 percent are female; 88.2 percent are white, 9.5 percent are black, and 2.4 percent are of other races. Clearly, heart disease is a national concern.

At least 250,000 people die of heart attacks each year before they reach a hospital. Half of all heart attack victims wait more than two hours before getting help. Studies show that under-educated people are more likely to suffer heart attacks. Estimates are that 3 million Americans suffer occasional chest pain.

As many as 50 million Americans have high blood pressure, the leading contributor to heart disease. Of those people, 35 percent don't know they have it. High blood pressure is easily detectable and usually controllable.
If all forms of cardiovascular disease were eradicated, life expectancy would increase by 7 years.

What is Heart Disease?
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the most common form of cardiovascular disease. About 7 million Americans suffer from coronary heart disease and over 500,000 die of heart attacks caused by CHD each year. This type of heart disease is caused by the narrowing of the arteries that feed blood to the heart. A heart attack occurs when an artery becomes blocked, preventing oxygen and nutrients from getting to the heart.

Like any muscle, the heart needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients that are carried to it by the blood in the coronary arteries. When the coronary arteries become narrowed or clogged and cannot supply enough blood to the heart, the result is coronary heart disease. The pain that is felt as a result of inadequate oxygen-carrying blood is called angina. This pain is usually felt in the chest and/or left arm and shoulder. However, sometimes there are no symptoms. This is called silent angina. When the blood supply is cut off completely, the result is a heart attack. The section of the heart that receives no oxygen begins to die, and heart muscles may be permanently damaged.

What are the Symptoms of CHD?
For many people, the first symptom of coronary heart disease is a heart attack. But not all heart attacks begin with a sudden, crushing pain in the chest, as is shown on television or in the movies. So knowing the warning signs is important so that you could get treatment within one hour of the first symptom.

The most common warning signs are:

o Chest pain (angina) or discomfort. Usually in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes. A person may feel pressure, squeezing, tightness, burning or pain, usually behind the breastbone. The discomfort can be mild or severe, and it may come and go. It is also possible to have a heart attack without having any of these symptoms.

o Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Pain or pressure may also be in one or both arms, neck, back, jaws, or stomach.

o Shortness of breath. May occur along with or without chest discomfort.

o Other Symptoms. Other early signs may be nausea, light-headedness, or breaking out in a cold sweat.

Women are less likely than men to experience chest pain, and more likely to experience shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and jaw or back pain.

What Causes CHD?

Coronary heart disease is caused by a build up of fat and cholesterol in the blood that causes the blood to become abnormally thick (viscous). The thicker your blood, the greater your risk for clogged arteries. Viscous blood forces the heart to pump harder, which elevates blood pressure. The increased pumping action creates friction along the walls of the arteries, causing gradual thickening and hardening leading to the development of plaque, almost like callus. The buildup of fat and cholesterol also attaches to the walls of the arteries, causing the walls to constrict. This process is called atherosclerosis.

This hardening and narrowing of the arterial wall increases blood pressure even more. The increased pressure may cause the deposits to rupture, triggering a heart attack or stroke. The plaque buildup also restricts the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the heart leading to further damage.

In addition to high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity also increase the risk of heart disease. That's why it is so vital to take action to prevent and control these conditions.

Risk Factors

Risk factors are conditions or habits that make a person more likely to develop a disease. They can also increase the chances that an existing disease will get worse. Some can be changed and some cannot. Important risk factors for heart disease that you can control are:

o High blood pressure

o High blood cholesterol

o Diabetes

o Smoking

o Obesity

o Physical Inactivity

o Stress

Risk factors that you cannot control are:

o Heredity (having a family history of coronary heart disease)

o Gender

o Age

Tips to Help Protect Your Heart

While certain risk factors cannot be changed, it is important to realize that you do have control over many others. Regardless of your age, background, or health status, you can lower your risk of heart disease - and it doesn't have to be complicated. Protecting your heart can be as simple as taking a brisk walk, loading up on a variety of vegetables, or getting the support you need to maintain a healthy weight.

o Eat a healthy diet. Limit your consumption of sodium (salt) to less than 2,000 milligrams (2 grams) each day. Eat foods high in fiber and potassium. Eat foods high in omega-3 fatty acids or take a daily fish oil supplement. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables, at least 5 servings a day. Limit foods high in fat (especially saturated fat), cholesterol, and sugar. Reduce total daily intake of calories to lose weight, if necessary.

o Exercise regularly. Thirty minutes of aerobic exercise such as walking, jogging, biking four days a week will strengthen your heart, lower your blood pressure and help you control your weight. If you have a heart disease or uncontrolled high blood pressure, a regular cardiovascular exercise program, prescribed by your doctor, will help improve your overall health and make you feel better. It may also reverse heart disease progression.

o Manage your weight. If you are overweight, start a program now to lose the excess weight. Studies have shown that obesity is a contributing factor for diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Women, in particular, who carry excess weight in the mid-section, have a higher risk for heart disease. Researchers at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City analyzed data from 6,000 women and found that 90% of the women with waist measurements of over 35 inches also had at least one major risk factor for heart disease.

o Take your medication/treatment. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, high blood cholesterol or high blood pressure and have been prescribed medication to control these conditions, take them. Seek additional herbal and vitamin supplements to strengthen your immune system and improve your overall health.

o Reduce psychological stress. Most of us tend to downplay the role of stress in the development of heart disease. Studies have shown that there are direct links between job stress and heart disease. Stressful jobs and workplace injustice can increase risk for heart disease, based on a recent study conducted by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Helsinki, Finland. If you feel that stress is an issue in your life, seek help to find a stress-reduction program. Seek ways to handle stress, such as supplements, exercise and meditation.

Nobody plans to have a heart attack. But just as you would have a plan in the event of a fire, it is important to have a plan to deal with a possible heart attack. Here are some steps you can take to deal with the possibility:

o Be familiar with the heart attack warning signs.

o Talk to family and friends about the signs and the need to call 9-1-1 quickly.

o Talk with your health care provider about your risk factors and how to reduce them.

o Take herbal supplements and vitamins to reduce your risk factors and prevent other factors.

o Write a "heart attack survival plan" that has medical information and keep it handy.

If you feel heart attack symptoms, do not delay. Do not wait to call 9-1-1. Your chance of survival or less severe damage increases if treatment begins within one hour of the first symptom.

Sources:

American Medical Association, Family Medical Guide, 4th Edition

Journal of Women's Health, January 2006

Centers for Disease Control

American Heart Association

 
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