February is American Heart Month. In February, we
tend to think about the heart in terms of love, but it is also important to
consider our heart health.
Heart Disease is the
leading cause of death in the United States. It is a general term that refers to several
types of heart conditions, but Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) is the most common.
CAD develops after a process called atherosclerosis has taken hold and clogs
the arteries that supply blood to the heart.
Atherosclerosis is a
hardening of the arteries that is caused by the cholesterol in the food that we
eat. LDL (“bad”) cholesterol floats along in the blood in a tiny crystal form
and if enough accumulates it can cause fatty streaks on the artery. If enough
HDL (“good”) cholesterol is consumed, it can get rid of this bad cholesterol,
leaving no damage to the artery. If there is not enough HDL, the LDL will
continue to accumulate in the artery causing a plaque-like substance to
accumulate. Over time, these plaques can harden leaving them stuck in place and
this leaves a smaller area in the artery for blood to be able to get through.
This makes it more difficult for the heart to pump the blood where it needs to
go if it has to work harder to get the blood through the blockages. This strain
on the heart can cause chest pain (angina), irregular heart rhythm
(arrhythmia), or even a total blockage of an artery carrying blood to the heart
which causes a heart attack.
Heart disease is a very
dangerous thing that can affect anyone, but disproportionately effects many
different groups. Half of the preventable heart disease deaths happen in people
under age 65. Blacks are twice as likely as whites to die from preventable
heart disease. Men have the highest likelihood of passing away from heart
disease across all races and ethnic groups.
The risk factors for
heart disease tend to be things that can be modified with healthy lifestyle
behaviors. The main risk factors tend to be poor diet, physical inactivity,
tobacco use, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Though
heart disease tends to affect people in middle age, the choices we are making
now will shape our probability of dying from the disease later in life. In a
study of 2,874 people between the ages of 15-34 who had been autopsied and
checked for cardiovascular risk factors, evidence of atherosclerosis was
present in some people as young as 15 years old.
are many things you can do right now to reduce your heart disease risk! Try to
quit smoking if you do so already. Start exercising for at least 150 minutes
per week at a moderate intensity. Make your diet low in sodium and trans-fats
and high in fruits and vegetables. To help raise the “good” HDL cholesterol,
try to include more foods such as beans, green tea, nuts, and soy into your
diet. If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, be sure to monitor your
levels and follow any treatment plan that your doctor has set forth.
For this American Heart month show yourself
the love by trying to stay heart healthy for the ones you love!
Monthly Health Message written by Health, Alcohol and Drug Education intern Kendra Geis
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