Editor's Note: Each month, residents are reminded to recognize a different awareness month related to a health concern, ailment or need. To continue this "health-conscious" effort, medical experts in Jefferson City will share helpful insight and advice regarding these many important health issues and topics, making readers aware during their recognition month and year-round.
It is important to remember that heart disease doesn't just affect older adults. It is now happening to younger adults more often, partly because the conditions that lead to heart disease are happening to people at younger ages (like obesity and high blood pressure).
The term "heart disease" describes a range of conditions that affect your heart. Diseases include, but are not limited to, blood vessel diseases, such as coronary artery disease; heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias); and heart defects you're born with (congenital heart defects).
Heart disease is often used interchangeably with the term "cardiovascular disease." Cardiovascular disease generally refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain or stroke. Other heart conditions, such as those that affect your heart's muscle, valves or rhythm, are also considered forms of heart disease.
What are the risk factors?
Some risk factors related to heart disease are not under your control, like age and family history, gender, and ethnicity.
The majority of risk factors, however, are under your control.
Age — Men 45 or older and women 55 or older are more likely to have a heart attack than younger men and women.
Smoking — Heart attacks are more common in smokers than in nonsmokers.
Poor diet — A diet that's high in fat, salt, sugar and cholesterol can contribute to the development of heart disease.
High blood pressure — Uncontrolled high blood pressure can result in hardening and thickening of your arteries, narrowing the vessels through which blood flows.
High blood cholesterol levels — High levels of cholesterol in your blood can increase the risk of plaque buildup.
Diabetes — Diabetes increases your risk of heart disease.
Obesity — Excess weight often worsens your other risk factors.
Physical inactivity — Lack of exercise also is associated with many forms of heart disease.
Stress — Unrelieved stress can damage your arteries and worsen other risk factors.
Poor hygiene — Not regularly washing your hands can put you at risk of heart infections, especially if you already have an underlying heart condition.
About half of all Americans have at least one of the top three risk factors for heart disease (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking).
What are the complications of heart disease?
Heart failure — One of the most common complications of heart disease is heart failure. This occurs when your heart can't pump enough blood to meet your body's needs.
Heart attack — A blockage of blood flow to the heart muscle.
Stroke — When the arteries to your brain are narrowed or blocked and too little blood reaches your brain. Brain tissue begins to die within just a few minutes of a stroke.
Aneurysm — A bulge in the wall of your artery. If an aneurysm bursts, you may face life-threatening internal bleeding.
Peripheral artery disease — Your extremities, usually your legs, don't receive enough blood flow.
Sudden cardiac arrest — Sudden cardiac arrest is the sudden, unexpected loss of heart function, breathing and consciousness, often caused by an arrhythmia. If not treated immediately, it is fatal.
Know the symptoms of heart attacks.
Symptoms of a heart attack include:
Discomfort, pressure, heaviness, or pain in the chest, arm or below the breastbone.
Discomfort radiating to the back, jaw, throat, or arm.
Fullness, indigestion or choking feeling (may feel like heartburn).
Sweating, nausea, vomiting or dizziness.
Extreme weakness, anxiety or shortness of breath.
Rapid or irregular heartbeats.
During a heart attack, symptoms last 30 minutes or longer and are not relieved by rest or nitroglycerin under the tongue.
Some people have a heart attack without having any symptoms (a "silent" myocardial infarction). A silent MI can occur in anyone, but it is more common among people with diabetes.
Manage conditions — Work with your health care team to manage conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Make heart-healthy eating changes — Eat food low in trans-fat, saturated fat, added sugar and sodium. Try to fill at least half of your plate with vegetables and fruits.
Stay active — Get moving for at least 150 minutes per week.
Dr. Brandy Glascock is board certified in family medicine. She accepts patients of every age to help address their healthcare needs. Glascock received a Master of Science in community health from the University of Illinois at Urbana and received her medical degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine. She completed her residency at the University of Missouri-Columbia.