Cardiovascular (heart) disease is serious. For some people, finding out they have heart disease is a wake-up call that prompts them to take better care of their health. For others, it may be a struggle to deal with the diagnosis.
It’s important to know that managing the condition – improving the quality of your life while reducing cardiovascular risks – is possible.
What Heart Disease Means
A diagnosis of heart disease usually refers to any number of conditions in which blocked blood vessels can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
The most common type is coronary artery disease (CAD), in which the blood vessels that supply oxygenated blood to your heart become narrowed and stiff due to plaque buildup in the arteries. This restricts blood flow to the heart, causing signs and symptoms such as a fast heart rate and shortness of breath. Angina (chest pain) can also occur when not enough oxygen is getting to the heart.
When plaque breaks off and blocks blood flow to the heart, a heart attack may follow. Heart muscle can be permanently damaged by heart attacks.
Another type of heart disease is congestive heart failure, which means that your heart has a problem pumping the oxygenated blood the rest of your body needs to carry out daily activities. It does not mean that your heart has stopped working. CAD, high blood pressure, or a prior heart attack increase your risk of developing this type of heart failure.
Heart rhythm disorders, yet another type of heart disease, are caused by problems with the electrical signals regulating your heartbeat. There are many risk factors for developing so-called heart arrhythmias, including prior heart attack and cardiac muscle damage.
Reduce Your Risk Factors
Regardless of your age or gender, or what type of heart disease you have, working closely with your cardiologist is essential to manage your condition. Together you will address possible therapies, medications, and lifestyle changes that can help you remain as healthy as possible for many years.
Here are some of the major risk factors that can lead to worsening heart disease and what you can do to limit or eliminate them.
- Smoking. If you smoke, quit. If you smoke and have heart disease, you increase your risk of another heart attack or congestive heart failure. Nicotine in cigarettes further tightens already narrowed arteries. The toxin reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood and increases levels of harmful carbon dioxide. And smoking can make breathing and exercise harder. All these factors make smoking a major risk factor for heart disease.
- High blood pressure. Monitor your blood pressure and take blood pressure medication if your doctor says you need it. Limit the amount of salt you eat if you have high blood pressure.
- High cholesterol levels. Follow your doctor’s recommendations about cholesterol levels and take medications to lower harmful cholesterol levels if your doctor says you need it.
- Being overweight. Maintain a healthy weight or lose weight if you need to.
- Being inactive. Exercise or be physically active – but only after consulting with your doctor.
- Having uncontrolled diabetes. Manage your blood sugar levels if you have diabetes.
- Being stressed. Stress affects your body as well as your metal health. Severe stress can actually make a heart attack more likely to happen. When you have heart disease, stress and anxiety are especially bad for you. In addition to the direct harm stress can inflict, stress can also derail efforts to eat better, exercise, and stop smoking. For the sake of your health and your quality of life, limiting your exposure to stress and learning how to better manage your stress is important.
It’s well known that heart disease can affect your mental health as well as your physical health. Many people with heart disease are at risk for developing depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, many people do not have an outlet to express how they are feeling, while others may keep their feelings inside to spare loved ones added worry.
Tell your doctor if you have been feeling sad for a long period of time or if you experience episodes of anxiety. You are not alone – your doctor can recommend an experienced therapist or support group or other interventions if needed.
Cardiac rehabilitation programs are essential to help you regain strength during recovery after heart surgery (such as a coronary bypass). Cardiac rehab will include support and education about exercise, lifestyle changes, and stress management. It can be a powerful tool to help you cope with heart disease.
The friendly staff at Intercoastal Medical Group is committed to addressing any concerns you may have regarding heart disease. Find a location near you to schedule an appointment. You can also request an appointment online now.