Insightsthe blog of Porter Hills
Battling Heart Disease
What is Heart Disease? According to the American Heart Association (AHA), it is a simple term used to describe several problems related to the buildup of plaque on the walls of arteries (“atherosclerosis”). This buildup causes the arteries to narrow and block the flow of blood. The lack of adequate blood flow can lead to a stroke, heart attack and/or the need for a procedure to open up the blood flow (e.g. angioplasty, stenting, or bypass surgery). Other types of heart disease include conditions such as heart failure (CHF), abnormal heart rhythms, and heart valve problems.
Heart disease runs in my family. Perhaps it runs in your family as well. If not, you likely know someone who has been impacted by heart disease. In my father’s family, all of his male siblings and both of his parents struggled with heart disease; some even requiring bypass surgery. My father began having symptoms at the age of 52. He loved to go running but noticed that when he did, he felt a heaviness in his chest. The heaviness usually resolved when he stopped running, so he didn’t feel too concerned about it. At that time, I was a nurse on a cardiac floor at a local hospital. When my dad described his symptoms to me, he sounded just like the cardiac patients I worked with each day! When he went to the doctor and reported his symptoms, the doctor ran a series of tests and discovered that he had several arteries that had blockage. This blockage would require some sort of intervention or it could lead to a heart attack. It was decided that he would undergo a rotor blade procedure called rotational atherectomy to remove the blockage from his arteries. The surgery was successful but my dad had to make some lifestyle changes as well. He and my mom modified their diet significantly, and he continued to exercise. We are grateful that he hasn’t had to have any further intervention for 17 years!
Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans. Although some of the risk factors for heart disease cannot be controlled (e.g. increasing age, male gender, heredity), many of the risk factors listed below can be controlled through lifestyle changes:
- Smoking tobacco
- High blood cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Physical inactivity
- Being overweight or obese
- Diabetes Mellitus
What are the lifestyle changes that you can make to lower your risk of heart disease?
According to the AHA, smokers have a risk of developing heart disease that is 2-4 times that of a non-smoker. It is very difficult to stop smoking, but there are many resources available to assist those who decide to quit.
Know your numbers
All of us should know what our blood cholesterol levels are and what our blood pressure typically runs. The AHA states our total cholesterol should be less than 180 and recommends a blood pressure with the top number less than 120 and the bottom number less than 80. If your numbers are outside of range, work with your physician to develop a plan specific to you.
Eat a healthy diet
Foods that are high in saturated or trans fats contribute to the development of plaque in the arteries. Foods high in sodium cause our bodies to retain fluid, which can increase blood pressure and cause the heart to work harder to pump blood. By eating a low-sodium diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, we can lower our risk of heart disease and help to control our blood pressure.
Research has shown that getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity on 5 or more days a week helps to control weight, lower cholesterol, and lower blood pressure. While this may seem like an unreachable goal to some, something is better than nothing. Having a moderate level of fitness reduces the risk of dying early compared to having a low level of fitness.
The AHA states that heart disease and stroke are the number one causes of death and disability among those with Type 2 diabetes. Those with diabetes should work to keep their blood sugars under control. This is achieved by eating a healthy diabetic diet, getting exercise, taking medications as ordered, and checking blood sugars regularly.
Additional information about heart disease, risk factors, and treatment can be found at the American Heart Association website:
Smoking cessation resources can be found at: