Can you imagine working day in and day out without a vacation? That’s what your heart does. It doesn’t always work under ideal conditions either, and that can take a toll.
According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, nearly one in three adults ages 65 and older has coronary artery disease (also known as coronary heart disease or ischemic heart disease). It is the most common type of heart disease, and the leading cause of death in men and women, accounting for one in seven deaths each year.
In coronary artery disease, the arteries that provide blood to the heart become hard and narrow due to the buildup of plaque (made up of cholesterol and other substances) on their inner walls. As a result, blood has a hard time getting to the heart, and the heart does not get all the blood (and oxygen) it needs. Coronary artery disease can lead to angina, heart attack, heart failures or arrhythmias.
Angina is chest pain or discomfort that results when the heart does not get enough blood. Angina may feel like a pressing or squeezing pain, often in the chest, but sometimes in the shoulder, arm, neck jaw or back. Angina is a symptom of developing heart disease. It is not a heart attack but means you are more likely to have a heart attack.
A heart attack happens when blood flow to the heart is severely or completely blocked, and the heart muscle does not get the blood it needs. If not treated quickly, the heart muscle begins to die. Without prompt treatment, a heart attack can lead to serious problems or death.
Over time, coronary heart disease can weaken the heart muscle, which can contribute to heart failure (where the heart can’t pump blood very well throughout the body) or arrhythmias (changes in the beat rhythms of the heart).
Here are five action steps you can take to help prevent or lessen the risks of coronary heart disease.
- Be aware of your family history. Knowing you are at increased risk provides motivation to minimize other risk factors you can control.
- Make an appointment to see your primary care physician. Be proactive. According to David Goff, Jr., M.D., PhD and dean of Colorado School of Public Health., “You can’t do much about your risk if you don’t know what it is.”
- Find out your blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol levels. These can all be a factor in heart disease. High blood pressure is often called the “silent disease,” because it has no symptoms. People may not be aware of elevated blood glucose without a blood test. Even if your cholesterol levels are high, taking action may help slow, reduce or even stop plaque from building up in your arteries.
- Eat healthy and exercise. Follow a diet that includes more fruits, vegetables and fiber but decreases fats, red meats, sodium and added sugars. Losing those extra pounds also can alleviate your heart’s workload. Talk with your doctor before you start a new diet or exercise plan. Together, decide how much and what kinds of physical activities are safe for you.
- Manage stress. Ongoing stress can increase your heart rate, blood pressure and blood glucose levels. It can also damage your heart and circulatory system. You can control some stress in your life by learning to say “no” and asking for help. You might try techniques such as deep breathing or yoga as coping strategies. Accepting life for what it is can help you control your reaction to unwanted stressors.
Take care of your heart. Small changes can add up to a big difference in your heart health.
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