In the U.S. alone, about 85.6 million Americans are living with some form of cardiovascular disease or the after-effects of stroke. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease causes a death every 40 seconds in the U.S.
It is important to understand your risk factors for these diseases, and reduce them as much as possible. Kristina Lane, a nurse in Cardiac Rehab at EAMC, explains that there are two kinds of risk factors when it comes heart health. “Non-modifiable risk factors include a family history of heart disease or stroke, and being a man who is over the age of 55, or a woman who is over the age of 45.”
According to Lane, “using tobacco, high blood pressure, lack of exercise, diabetes, being overweight, poor stress management, and abnormal cholesterol are all modifiable risk factors, which means you have the power to reduce them.
“There are many ways to modify your risk factors for heart disease,” Lane explains. “Quitting smoking automatically reduces your risk for heart disease. In addition, eating healthy, exercising, monitoring how much sodium you have in your diet, monitoring diabetes by taking prescribed medication, and finding ways to manage stress are also important to reduce your risk.”
Kate Ruud, RN, is the nursing unit manager for the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU) at EAMC. She explains that understanding family history is important when determining your risk factors. “In my experience, there is a major correlation between heart disease and a family history of heart disease,” Ruud says. “Knowing the medical history of your parents, siblings, and grandparents can be a red flag that you may be at risk, especially if your family members developed heart disease at an early age. That being said, having a family history of heart disease is no reason to panic. It simply means you should be more vigilant in reducing the modifiable risk factors that may increase your risk of developing heart disease. These modifiable risk factors can be broken into two groups; lifestyle and conditions.
“Old habits can be hard to let go of, however, lifestyle changes can drastically reduce your risk for heart disease and other disease processes,” Ruud explains. “Changes that will help lower your risk of heart disease include many things that are a typical New Year’s resolution list every year—stop smoking, eat healthier (reducing fats and salts), increase activity or exercise, lose weight and reduce alcohol consumption.
“Diagnosing and managing other conditions will also lower your risk. These conditions include: high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Regular checkups will help detect these conditions early and allow you and your doctor to come up with appropriate treatment options.”
Riley Belcher, director of Cardiology at EAMC, explains that there are many different types of heart procedures, and sometimes it can be confusing. If a friend or family member is having a heart catheterization, that is not the same as open-heart surgery. “The Catheterization Laboratory (Cath Lab) is an examination room in the hospital with diagnostic imaging equipment used to perform heart caths, which are diagnostic studies that illustrate the blood flow to the heart,” Belcher explains. “If there is blockage, sometimes a heart cath will lead to a stent or a balloon, and sometimes because of the location or severity of the blockage, a coronary artery bypass surgery, sometimes referred to as bypass surgery, is required.
“If you have concerns about your risk factors, or you notice a change such as shortness of breath or tightness in the chest, I would advise every person to schedule an appointment with their primary care physician. Your physician will assess your symptoms and risk factors to determine the need to see a cardiologist or perform further testing. If the symptoms are sever do not delay and call 911.”