Cardiovascular Disease: Are you at risk?
Most of us know heart disease is the leading cause of death among both men and women, but many don’t understand why the disease is so deadly. The answer? Very few people even know they are at risk for heart disease.
“If we can get patients who don’t know they are at risk to understand those factors and make changes, we can prevent heart disease,” says James Kong, M.D., a board-certified cardiologist with The Christ Hospital Heart and Vascular Center.
Coronary artery disease – one of the most common types of heart disease – occurs when the heart’s arteries become damaged from plaque, which is a buildup of cholesterol and other substances that cause arteries to harden and narrow. Reduced blood flow through the arteries can then lead to a heart attack.
How do I know my risk?
Although some risk factors for heart disease cannot be changed (such as age, gender and family history), healthy lifestyle choices and screenings can offer some protection. Ask yourself a few simple questions to determine your risk. The more questions you answer “yes” to, the higher the risk.
- Do I have a parent or sibling with heart disease? “Family history of heart disease should tip people off that they need be more careful about their lifestyle and getting screened,” Dr. Kong says. Also, keep in mind – when the family member was diagnosed or experienced a heart problem is just as important as whom. You’ll need to get screened earlier and more frequently if your father or brother had a heart attack before age 55, or a female relative before age 65.
- Do I use tobacco or alcohol? Smokers are two- to four-times more likely to develop heart disease than non-smokers. Smoking increases blood pressure and the tendency for blood to clot. Alcohol on the other hand increases heart rate and wears the muscle down. If you drink, do so in moderation.
- Does my life have a lot of stress? Stress causes adrenaline to circulate in the body and leads to a faster resting heart rate and higher blood pressure, which causes the heart to work harder. “Stress, depression and even poor sleep are emerging risk factors,” Dr. Kong says. Meditation, relaxation techniques and even just 30 minutes of exercise per day can reduce stress.
- Is my total cholesterol and blood pressure elevated? Chronic high blood pressure (higher than 120/80) and high cholesterol (higher than 200 mg/dL) put stress on the heart, causing the muscle to thicken and the arteries to become blocked. A heart-healthy diet and daily exercise can lower both.
“The only way we can make a dent in reducing these risk factors is for people to embrace a heart-healthy lifestyle and meet regularly with their physician to undergo screenings,” Dr. Kong says.
Find a physician who can manage your cardiac care needs by calling 877-904-4YOU or visiting www.TheChristHospital.com.
Heart Attack: Every Minute Counts
Often, the first time a person learns they have heart disease is after they’ve had a heart attack. In this situation, timing can be everything in preserving the heart’s function.
“Men who experiences chest pain and or tingling or numbness in the arm, the typical symptoms of heart attack, need to go to call 911 and go to the emergency room of the nearest heart hospital. Women are also at risk, but may experience different symptoms including nausea/vomiting, sweating, or pain radiating to the neck, arm or back (with or without chest pain) and also need to call 911,” Dr. Kong says. “People need to know time makes a difference when symptoms occur.”
The Christ Hospital fully accredited Chest Pain Center is equipped to quickly care for patients who arrive with heart attack symptoms. The center earned the accreditation by meeting strict criteria, including:
- Reducing the time from onset of symptoms to diagnosis and treatment;
- Treating patients more quickly during the critical window of time when the heart muscle can be preserved; and
- Monitoring patients when it’s uncertain whether they are having a heart attack to prevent them from going home too quickly or being admitted to the hospital when it’s unnecessary.