The heart is the most important part of the body, as it pumps blood to provide a means of transportation for nutrients and disease-fighting cells. Cardiovascular health determines the patient’s overall health, and it should be taken seriously to maintain a high-quality life.
Coronary heart disease is identified when arteries become narrowed or blocked. This is typically the result of atherosclerosis, where cholesterol and fatty deposits collect on the inner walls of the arteries. The deposits are referred to as “plaques” and they restrict blood flow to the rest of the body. The heart becomes deprived of oxygen and other vital nutrients, making it difficult to continue pumping blood. This can cause severe chest pain.
Common symptoms of coronary disease include:
- Shortness of breath
- A faster heartbeat
- Dizziness or weakness
- Palpitations or irregular heart beats
If a part of the heart muscle gets cut off from the blood supply, or if the bodily demands on the heart become much larger than its blood supply, a heart attack is likely to occur. This is an injury to the heart muscle that requires immediate medical attention, yet approximately 11.6% of heart attacks go untreated in American hospitals each year.
Common symptoms of heart attacks include:
- Sweating or anxiety
- Nausea or vomiting
- Extreme weakness or dizziness
- Shortness of breath
- Fullness, indigestion, or a choking sensation that feels like heartburn
- Discomfort, pressure, heaviness, or pain in the chest, arm, or below the breastbone
- Discomfort radiating to the back, jaw, throat, or arm
An arrhythmia is not necessarily life-threatening, but it can be a sign of bigger health issues. In a case study published in February 2012, air pollution was found to cause supraventricular arrhythmia. This type of arrhythmia can lead to cardiovascular disease.
Symptoms of arrhythmias include:
- Chest discomfort or pain
- Weakness, fatigue, or lack of energy
- Dizziness or feeling light-headed
- Shortness of breath
- Pounding in your chest or a racing feeling in the heart
- Palpitations or a feeling of skipped heart beats
Maintaining a Healthy Heart
Preventative measures can be taken to avoid the onset of any heart condition. Mayo Clinic has five main criteria for supporting a healthy heart.
1. Don’t smoke or use any form of tobacco.
Chemicals in tobacco are bad for the heart and blood vessels. The nicotine found in cigarette smoke forces the heart to work harder, raising the heart rate and blood pressure. Carbon monoxide deprives the body of oxygen. Tobacco chemicals constrict the arteries, causing atherosclerosis. This increases the risk for heart disease and heart attacks.
2. Exercise for 30 minutes almost every day.
Getting regular exercise helps control weight and lowers the risk of fatal heart disease. It also prevents high cholesterol, high blood pressure, stress, and diabetes, which can all add strain on the heart. Even housekeeping activities, such as gardening and walking the dog, can be enough to benefit the heart.
3. Establish a heart-healthy diet.
Eating in a manner commonly referred to as the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) can help protect the heart. This means choosing foods that are low in salt, cholesterol, and fat. The DASH diet focuses on eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and other low-fat sources of protein. Omega-3 fatty acids, commonly found in salmon or mackerel, decrease the risk of heart attack by lowering blood pressure and preventing irregular heartbeats.
4. Maintain a healthy weight.
This goes hand-in-hand with eating right and getting exercise. Excess weight leads to conditions that elevate the risk of heart disease. The body mass index (BMI) can be a good way to determine if a person is at an unhealthy weight. A BMI number of 25 or more is associated with higher blood pressure, higher blood fat levels, and a greater risk of heart disease and stroke.
5. Schedule regular health screenings.
Without testing for factors such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure, the person may not know if there is an increased risk for heart disease. A patient should schedule routine appointments to evaluate blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and diabetes screenings. All of these issues play a role in heart damage and blood vessel constriction.