By Bernard Freeman
Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for Americans, for both men and women and most ethnicities; for American Indians and Asians/Pacific Islanders, heart disease is second to cancer in causes of death. More than 600,000 people die of heart disease every year; that represents 25 percent of all deaths in this country.
The good news is that while some aspects of heart disease are hereditary and all risk factors can’t be fully controlled, there are a number of lifestyle changes that can reduce the risk of a serious heart condition, like a heart attack, or help protect yourself from acquiring a heart condition. And, while heart disease looks different in everybody, there are symptoms to watch for. Since early action is critical in treating heart disease, that knowledge can save a life.
Signs and Symptoms
Most people recognize that chest pain is symptomatic of a heart attack, but there are other signs to look for as well. Pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw or upper stomach; shortness of breath and nausea, lightheadedness or cold sweats all could indicate a heart attack. Women with heart disease are more likely to report chest pain that is sharp or burning.
When in doubt, it’s better to seek treatment immediately. Almost half of sudden cardiac deaths occur before a person can get to a hospital, which likely means early warning signs were ignored.
High cholesterol, hypertension and smoking are the major risk factors for heart disease; the CDC said about half of people with heart disease have at least one of these risk factors. Other chronic conditions or lifestyle choices that are risk factors are diabetes, being overweight or obese, having a poor diet, not getting sufficient exercise and excessive alcohol use.
Healthy habits like a balanced diet (whole foods with lots of color on your plate that comes from fruits and vegetables, not colored candy), getting plenty of exercise, quitting smoking and reducing your alcohol intake all reduce your risk of heart disease or a heart attack. You also want to keep your cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes under control; take any medication you should be taking and see your doctor regularly.